Earth, Water and Fire

Earth, Water and Fire

Grace and Peace to you from the mystery in whom we live and move, and have our being. Cloud of witnesses.

The flow of life and spirit is not linear. It is one, and made up of layer upon layer of life stories unconstrained by darkness. In a linear world, Elijah was a forerunner. He often worked with fire. Moses was the lawgiver and he worked with water. Jesus was down to earth. Period. However, these lives are not linear as in cause-and-effect, but a continuation of Divine Infinity rendered from the layers of stories over time. My therapist friends will often ask their clients to do a timeline. I prefer a story line with layers of lines.

Spirit is stirred

In this biblical event, three persons are on the mountain and three are in the valley, staring up, as witnesses. There is another witness that shows up as a cloud. It is Spirit. Spirit is stirred when its children love each other. There is no greater experience for parents than to see their young ones walk off to school and spontaneously grab hands. As a parent, you stare in silent awe, because they usually fight. Their capacity to care for each other without prompting stuns us in a good way. Spirit is stirred when we love each other and commune with each other.

Jesus is telling the disciples there is a different way to be than what they’ve experienced before. We, too, may need to see things in a different way. Life, death, and oneness.  The Jewish culture may have seen Elijah as a forerunner in a particular way, and expected Elijah to proclaim certain words to prepare the way for the Messiah. It all would be great, except Elijah was not exactly treated well, and he would die. Jesus would not be treated well either, and he would die. The endings were never exactly the way the Jews, or gentiles expected.

Prior to this Ascension, Jesus had told them he would die. Could that week have been any more traumatizing for Peter, James and John? Grieving, the talk of death, then Resurrection and now Ascension. On this mountain the Spirit is stirred.


Following the Ascension, Jesus’ garments become white as a cloud. The glory of the Lord showed on him. This event of the glory indicates that we must see things different then we saw them before. Unless we are willing to see things differently, it is difficult to be a witness to the way and glory of Christ. One way of being open is not to see life as linear. Christ comes in the moments of our mountains and valleys and in our stories.

These three, Peter James and John, were invited to see things differently than they had in the past. The Bible says they were taken to the mountain alone. Emphasis on alone. Ironically, they will come to see that they never were alone. As they approach the mountain, they are about to witness Elijah and Moses appearing with Jesus.

Now appearing on one stage! Elijah the flame thrower. Moses the water mover. And Jesus the earth shaker. Watch them in their element! Direct your attention to the top of this mountain and I present to you, in their elements… Earth, Water and Fire.

So great a cloud of witnesses

Seriously though, what a powerful moment for Peter, James and John! Until now, Jesus had been telling them parables, giving them wisdom, teaching them how to live in a chaotic and heartless world, and performing miracles in everyday lives. Now he’s going to tell them that he’s not on his own. He has a whole cloud of witnesses who have come before his earthly life. They died, yet somehow are present in the Glory of the Lord on the mountain.

The mystery we call God is not visible in this moment on the mountain, but reveals itself in the face of Jesus and a voice in the clouds. They are standing in the Glory of God and the disciples are witnesses. The invisible mystery in whom we live and move and have our being is reflected in the face of Jesus. Jesus is joined by Elijah and Moses as witnesses to Peter, James and John. God remains invisible yet revealed in all things, including the faces of people willing to experience intimacy with Spirit.

In this unimaginable heavenly experience, I love the human part of the story. Peter was terrified and doesn’t know what to say. So, he offers to build dwellings for the three on the mountain. What else would a guy say who has heard about the Ark of the Covenant, the Temples… the tents where God lived? He just was stunned in the moment. I seriously had to stop and laugh. The writer must have had fun writing, ‘Peter didn’t know what to say!’ In the awkward silence, as they gazed up at the three prophets whispering to each other, somebody had to bail everyone out!

“We are your witnesses”

They came alone but Peter, James and John were not alone anymore. Jesus had said days before that he was going to leave, and he would die. What a blow to hear from your friend and mentor and rescuer! But to the three watching Elijah, Moses and Mystery, Jesus was saying, ‘We are your witnesses. I said I would never leave you or forsake you. This is what I meant when I said I will never leave you or forsake you. God is in all things and all those who have gone before us. You will do even greater things. You may be terrified, but you have a cloud of witnesses for your family and friends and in your aloneness. I Am is with us.’

As for the bright mystery shining on Jesus’ face and garments? The earthly human Jesus is made the glory of God. The law has no life, humanity no breath, the earth no footing, lest it be grounded in the glory and included in all things. All the elements.

Earth, water and fire

Elijah worked with fire. Moses did a lot with water and Jesus was down to earth. Like literally, he did a lot with earth. He walked on water, poured the spring of everlasting life, and was baptized. Jesus spoke of wheat and broke bread. He was the light of the world. Then he was resurrected from earth’s grave. The elements are intertwined with all the kingdom’s eternal existence. Peter was called the rock, James and John the sons of, wait for it… thunder! Peter, James and John must have remembered when Jesus spoke of Spirit and miraculously moved the elements… particularly life-giving water for all who are thirsty, harvests for the hungry and soon, the Spirit with the boldness of wind and flame to make all things new. 

Jesus invites Peter, James and John to be witnesses of Elijah and Moses beyond the grave. The hope of the glory spoken of.

Before being witnesses of this moment on the mountain with Elijah and Moses, they’ve been witnesses to Jesus’s life and his message of hope and transformation.

Have you witnessed a piece of God’s glory in nature or in people? Who are your witnesses? The Jews had their God moments. A cloud appeared to guide them. They knew exactly what the image of a cloud meant. It meant that God is here, or leading, or standing behind. Clouds are referenced throughout the stories in the Old Testament. Maybe this is what Paul means in the book of Hebrews when he writes, ‘we are surrounded by a whole cloud of witnesses.’ The mystery of God is in the cloud of our witnesses, both living and gone.

Peter, James and John

There is a cloud of witnesses both in people’s lives, and in the elements. Peter is a witness to the cloud of three. He was called the rock. James and John are witnesses to this cloud of three. They were called the sons of thunder. It can’t be a coincidence that the elements of the earth and skies are intertwined with the faces and lives of people.

Jesus said he would leave, that he was going to die. Yes, and we all will die. Nevertheless, we become part of the cloud of witnesses. The eternal presence and eternal knowing. Jesus is saying you may be at the bottom of this mountain, and we may be at the top of this mountain, but we are witnesses. All of us. We want the world to know that we are a union of brothers and sisters. One family, stretching out from one end of history to the other. You will never be alone, whether in the valley or on the mountaintop. There is a whole cloud of witnesses. I’m not sure of the many dimensions of this cloud of witnesses. Perhaps it’s a… Mystery? The answer is in Mystery. A Mystery, just as the voice from within the cloud. Not a knowable Mystery, but an eternally knowing Mystery.

This is my Son

The passages read, ‘Then a cloud overshadowed them and from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my son, from my bosom and I love him. Listen to him.” Jesus is no longer just the dude who brought odd ways of being and spoke in word puzzles. He wasn’t just a friend of Peter, James and John. He was also friends with Elijah, Moses, and the Mystery. Jesus introduced his earthly friends to his witnesses Elijah, Moses, Jesus, Peter, James and John, but they all are witnesses to the Mystery we’ve called God. We have witnesses in our lives. Who are the witnesses in your life in the now? Who do you share a heavenly meal with in the Glory of Christ?


Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Henry Rojas, spiritual director at Spirit in the Desert.

Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.


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