Transfiguration

Summer seems to end early these days, with schools starting mid-August. Gone are the Labor Day weekends devoted to shopping for school supplies and school shoes. Gone, too, are the last few weeks of August when our sleepy, lazy days stretched on forever. 

This ending of summer, coupled with a chilly few weeks in the Bay Area, pushes me to think of fall and going back to school, of endings and beginnings. Trained as a child that when summer ended school began, I still think in these terms, although my school days are long past. My children’s school days are long past as well (except for the fourth-grade teacher, I suppose), but my grandchildren certainly are ending their summer days and beginning their school days this month. 

For many years the scents of the season, the chilly mornings and hot afternoons, triggered within me anxious dreams bordering on fears – being on time for class, finding my locker, and the worst of all, arriving in my pajamas.  I haven’t had such dreams that I recall in a long time, which shows time does heal and repair. But I recall vividly the anticipation of that first school day, waiting for the school bus with my books cradled in my arm (no backpacks then), balancing a bag lunch somewhere, not sure where. Did I remember my dime for the orange-aid machine? (no cafeterias, no sodas)

I remember the sound of the school bells ringing, not really sounding like bells, but more like staccato notes strung tightly together, shrilly stinging through the air, slicing, horizontal. They were a happy sound for the most part, an it’s-time-to-come-on-in sound, but they also carried a warning note so that the fear of being marked tardy added wings to my feet. Was that the five minute bell? Or the final bell?

I slid into the desk, arranged my things, watched the teacher and the broad blackboard (really dark green). I prepared my attention for what was to come. Oral reports? Pop quiz? Did I complete the homework in time? Did I remember to bring it? I recall the smell of the metal-and-wood desks with their attached seats and their sloping surface that opened to a compartment in which to place things. I don’t recall what I put in there (eraser? pencil? ruler?) or if I always had the same desk… it surely varied from year to year, grade to grade. We all faced the same direction – toward the front and the board and the teacher and the teacher’s huge desk, heavy and sturdy like a barge and command center rolled into one – and perhaps this arrangement instilled a reverence for authority. 

I liked the way the room was arranged. It provided security. I liked that the teacher could give me knowledge, as though on a platter, and I could receive it, feed on it. And I could trust the person who served me. She or he was, after all, a Teacher. She would change my thought processes, rearrange my words and ideas, she would fill me with images and solutions to so many problems. Reading, writing, arithmetic. California history, U.S. History, World History. Civics – the three branches of government and who we are as Americans. What freedom meant and why we fought wars to protect our freedom. She would explain my world, give me the tools to cast my vote one day. She would transfigure my thought processes, the workings of my mind. 

Transfiguration. Change of a miraculous and mysterious nature. We celebrated the Transfiguration this week in our Church Kalendar, a stunning moment in the life of Christ on earth. Peter and James and John go with Jesus to a mountain to pray. As Jesus prays, they see his “countenance altered, and his raiment white and glistering”. Elijah and Moses appear and they speak of what was to come in Jerusalem. When the two ancient prophets leave, Peter doesn’t really understand – he wants to build altars to the three of them as though they were equals. It is then that a cloud covers the apostles and they are afraid. They hear God speak to them through the cloud, “This is my beloved son: hear him.” Jesus is not merely another prophet.

Christ’s transfiguration occurred as he prayed. He opened the door to heaven, he broke the chains of time. He was in both worlds. Just so, when we pray, we open the door to another dimension. And when we think and learn and allow words and phrases to re-figure our minds and hearts we open doors to change, to a kind of transfiguration. What we do matters. What we think matters. Who we pray to matters. Who we listen to matters. For we will be transfigured. Nothing is lost, not one second, not one minute is lost in eternity.

So we choose our teachers wisely. We choose our reading wisely. We even choose our entertainment – media and games and events – with the thought to how they will reshape us. We join in weekly worship, so that we will be transfigured rightly and not wrongly. We listen to Scripture and sermon with the knowledge that the changes made inside us will be good ones, Godly ones. We are transfigured, changed, by the holy.

And so, on this edge of seasons, I wait with anticipation to see what shall enter my hearing, my sight, my heart and mind. A new season is near, approaching steadily, I can see it coming, it is in my view. I watch and wait, just as I did for the yellow school bus so many years ago. Where will God lead me? What are his plans? How will I be transfigured in the days to come?

I am certain that, as a part of the Body of Christ, the Church, I will continue on this marvel-ous adventure, in an ongoing transfiguration, and of this I am glad.

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