2010-03-07 - There are no throwaway lines in the Bible . . .
There are no throwaway lines in the Bible. All the words and phrases are there for a reason, even those long chronologies, which we may be inclined to skip over, until we realize that they are the record of our spiritual DNA, tracing the whole drama of God's guidance of human history. But we should pay special attention to words of rare usage, for their occurrence indicates a subtle meaning that we may miss. One instance is the Hebrew word tardema, meaning sleep, which appears in the Old Testament only seven times.
It is different from ordinary sleep, for it is a spiritual torpor - a "deep sleep" - obliterating all earthly senses, so that the intellect will not be overwhelmed by some great thing God is doing. The Greek word commonly translating tardema is the source of our "ecstasy." A tardema overcame Adam as woman was being formed from him, and Abram fell into a tardema when God prepared to connect with human events by making a covenant with the Jews. This coma-like state is the sort of trance that overcame Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on the mountain traditionally thought to be located at Tabor.
The point is that God takes the initiative and gently prepares mortals for what otherwise would be a traumatic shock at encountering another dimension of existence. Even with that conditioning, the three apostles were astonished when they came out of the stupor. Peter sort of babbled because, says St. Luke, "he did not know what he was saying." God the Father was then heard: "This is my chosen Son; listen to Him."
It is through Christ that the larger life of heaven becomes intelligible. To try to make sense of God on our own results in self-projection, to which the thousands of religious sects invented by mere human agency in our world attest. Left to his own logic, Peter wanted to enshrine the Logos, which is Jesus, as part of a trio on par with Moses and Elijah. But after the Transfiguration, which Aquinas called the greatest of miracles before the Resurrection, Jesus "was found alone." There is only one God, and we encounter Him in the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. "He who has seen me has seen the Father."
The Holy Spirit graciously induces the deep sleep of the senses so that when human consciousness awakes, it does not confuse the divine Logos with human logic. The deep sleep that attends an encounter with God is different from biological fatigue, intensified by mental strain, such as the sleep that overcame the same three apostles in the Garden of Olives during Christ's agony. The small disciplines and penances of Lent help to move us from moral slumber to a deeper consciousness of God. Earthly dreams are fantasies, but what God shows us when He detaches us from earthly distractions, awakens the soul.