So here's another version of my familiar take on the Transfiguration...Thankfully I'm only delivering the 8.00 homily and then I get to preside, so it will all be OK again. Right now, though, I have so much more to do than I have a hope of achieving, it's enough to bring me out in spots.
Aaaaargh - to put it bluntly.
Still, here's the homily!
How clearly can you see?
I’ve reached the point when I need to wear glasses for distance work, but struggle to read while wearing them. It’s all very irritating…but one way and another, I can usually work out some strategy to enable me to see what I need to with reasonable clarity, and that’s something for which I really am grateful…
So let’s think about today’s readings in the light of our need to see.
While reading "around" this week's texts I came across an evocative paragraph in Madeline L'Engle's The Irrational Season:
"Suddenly they saw him the way he was; the way he really was all the time, although they had never seen it before, the glory which blinds the everyday eye and so becomes invisible. This is how he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy like a flaming sun in his hands. This is the way he was - is - from the beginning and we cannot bear it. So he manned himself, came manifest to us; and there on the mountain, they saw him; they really saw him, saw his light. Now, perhaps, we will see each other, too."
It seems to me that a great deal of what Christian spirituality is all about is "seeing."
When Elijah was taken from him, the critical question for Elisha was “would he see it happening”
On that hung so much of his own future ministry …He would be given a double share of his Mentor’s spirit if he had eyes to see.
Recalling another moment of transfiguration, - in which Moses in his turn learned to see, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote
“Earth’s crammed with heaven and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pick blackberries.”
It's all about learning to see
About learning to to recognise the presence of God, - which sometimes overwhelms us with an un-missable glory but which can sometimes slip by unnoticed too.
How clearly can you see?
On the mountain, everything that Peter, James and John had begun to suspect about their remarkable Rabbi, became blazingly clear in the strong and mysterious light radiating from his body and face. The disciples were permitted a glimpse of God’s transcendent glory on the face of Jesus, and so glimpsed for one moment the point of it all. For that moment, the veil which separates the invisible from the visible, the future from the present, was lifted, and they saw their lives with Jesus from a whole new point of view.
Perhaps the task of priesthood is simply to help others to see…To see God’s presence in everything, and to see one another with his eyes of love…with no judgement, no comparison, no anxiety or fear…
Let me share an experience of transfiguration that came to me in a most unlikely place, at a diocesan conference a few years ago. At the time, I was working as a charity administrator 4 days a week, running a bed and breakfast business, indulging in a spot of piano teaching, serving as a Reader in our benefice of 3 churches,- oh, and I was in the second year of ordination training. Getting to Swanwick was the nearest thing to a holiday I could see happening for a very long time…I was circling on my treadmill in true hamster fashion, and was certainly not generating much light in the process.
On the second day of the Conference, I was aware that a relationship with another delegate was beginning to become far too dominant to be manageable. Wherever I went, I seemed to bump into this person, who was friendly to the point of smothering me, and it was driving me MAD. I found myself ducking into the ladies if she loomed in sight, and was pleased when I went into the main hall for the keynote speaker that day, to see that she was already settled, with no gaps anywhere near.
The speakers that morning were John and Olive Drane….and their talk touched places that nobody else had yet acknowledged during the conference. Olive has a ministry as a clown and after sharing her own story via a moving series of dialogues with God, she invited anyone who wanted prayer to come and have a cross painted in grease-paint wherever felt right…
"Hands, forehead, eyes..." she suggested.
Can you imagine? A room full of Anglican clergy, mostly of a certain age and a reasonable sprinkling of “approved” laity being invited to relate to a clown…in front of each other! There was a moment when it seemed that nobody would dare to move, but gradually people got to their feet. Some headed for the doors, but a long line began to form, and I found myself on the end of it. By the time I reached Olive, I knew what I wanted to pray about…
“I’m training for ministry…I have 3 children and too many jobs and I’m so busy I just can’t see the wood for the trees. Please paint the cross on my eyelids and ask God to help me focus on Him, the real purpose behind all this busy-ness”
Olive prayed, marked my eyelids, and I returned to my seat. The session ended, and we trouped out for coffee. I did feel better…as if there was at least some possibility that I might survive the next few weeks at least. Perhaps I was getting some perspective? I decided to take my coffee outside. But, oh dear, there was X only a few yards away from me, and I’d definitely been seen. I went over, and as I approached, X dissolved into a pool of tears.
Only afterwards did I realise that I’d spent almost an hour with her there, listening, praying, being the sort of friend she had believed me to be. And the amazing thing? It felt entirely natural, right, unforced…I was able to love…to see the real person with all the pain and vulnerability exposed, and not the bundle of irritations that had preoccupied me before. God had heard my prayer for clearer vision, but had not answered it as I’d expected. Instead, God had lent me HIS eyes…for a while, I was able to see as He does. And yes, while it lasted the world did look very different…It was, truly, transfigured…and I saw the truth of that love that floods everything, all the time.
Since then, of course, my vision has clouded…The disciples came down from the mountain top to deal with the unlovely realities of Holy Week, to lose confidence, to be terrified, to be all but blinded by their fears.
I guess that’s what often happens with transfiguration experiences.
We look again and wonder if the flames in the bush were just a trick of the light…
but I know it is possible for us to see.
I know that with God’s help we can sometimes glimpse the shining reality of God’s presence, blazing through the ordinary till there is nothing ordinary left anywhere…
So let’s pray that we will be able to keep our eyes focussed on that reality till the day dawns and morning star rises in our hearts.