It Is Good To Be Here

In the ancient teachings of contemplative prayer, it is common practice to enter into a time of prayer by repeating a word, phrase, or line. As we calm down our breathing into a deeper natural rhythm, we say something like “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This oft-used line is called the Jesus prayer or the Pilgrim Prayer. This short prayer has a lot of history, a lot of meaning, packed into these few words. I have used this line often.

But just last week I discovered in Michael Casey’s fabulous book Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer another line I like very much. The words come from that dazzling, mysterious scene in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus is transfigured: “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became brilliant white.” Peter is overwhelmed by what is happening, and blurts out his spontaneous amazement: “‘Lord,’ he said, ‘it is good that we are here.’” What a simple, beautiful acknowledgement that he is in the presence of the mystery and majesty of the Lord.

In typical Peter-like fashion, he immediately suggests taking some action, perhaps building a monument or something. But the point becomes clear: We need to pause before the building part begins. We need simply to take time to enter into the presence of the very light of the world. That’s when we say in utter amazement, “Lord, it is good to be here.” Michael Casey suggests this is an appropriate phrase with which to begin prayer.

And so I have been repeating this line as I begin prayer and all through the day: “Yes, Lord, it is good to be here.” The phrase begins to seep into every nook and cranny of my life. It is good to be in this place, this very place, not somewhere else at the moment. It is good not to worry for a moment. It’s good not to think about politics, not to agonize, for a moment at least, over the ugliness of human behavior. It is good to let go for a moment the hurts I have experienced in the past, the times I’ve not measured up, the times I have hurt someone else.

Like Peter I am also a builder. I always want to do something, to get on with making the world better. But this scene, and this phrase, suggests we might—before we get to building something again—just rest in the presence of our living Lord. It is contemplation before action. It is presence that puts absence on hold. It quiets our restlessness. Yes, Lord, it is good to be in this place.

This scene depicts an important turning moment for Peter, a kind of deep conversion, a blowing of the mind into new dimensions of what life is all about. In Peter’s own letter, 2 Peter, the Apostle remembers this scene vividly. He says, look, we didn’t make up these stories about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Rather,” he clarifies, “with our own eyes we had witnessed his majesty.” Yes, there “on the sacred mountain,” he says, we realized we could actually walk into the presence of the living Lord.

Peter goes on to say that this majesty of our Lord “will go on shining like a lamp in a murky place, until day breaks and the morning star rises to illuminate your minds.” Could it be possible, in the murky places of our own little lives, this majesty will shine like a glowing lamp? Could it be, as I meditate in prayer, that day will break and “the morning star” will rise to illuminate my mind and settle my heart? Could it be, oh my, this new day might break upon our land? Oh, yes indeed, it is good to be here.

All of this thought process is not exactly what we do in prayer. That would simply clutter up the utter simplicity of Peter’s sudden discovery. How simple are these words of prayer—Lord, it is good to be here—to begin our day, to restore fullness into our lives, to quiet our minds, to calm our self-focused yearnings, perhaps even to prepare us to build something. Yes, in the quietness of prayer, we can let go into the mystery of finding rest before we begin to build again.