The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, celebrated August 6, and ongoing through the octave, always stuns me, perhaps transfigures me. I joined the St. Ann Chapel’s virtual Mass on Thursday and listened to the words of the Gospel of St. Luke (9:28+):
“AND it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.”
My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, is about transfiguration. There are icons in a bright cave that glow with uncreated light. There is the face of a believer transfigured by the joy of faith when he speaks of Christ. There are singers glistering with the melody of hymns and psalms. For all of us are invited into transfiguration. We need only say yes, Lord, transfigure me: let me hear your voice.
On the mountain, Luke describes one of those moments when Christ literally becomes our bridge to Heaven from Earth. It is a moment of revelation, recalling Christ’s baptism when the dove descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved son….” It is a moment that the earthbound disciple Peter doesn’t fully understand, thinking that Christ is equal with Moses and Elijah. It takes a dark and threatening cloud and the voice of God the Father to explain to him what is happening: “This is my beloved son! Hear him!” And yet the disciples still didn’t quite understand.
We often need such a direct voice from on high, the voice of life, the voice of God our Creator. Especially now, as our world seems to be full of anger and despair, even suicidal. We may not always understand, but we need listen, again, and again.
The pandemic reminds all of us of the fragility of our lives. Life itself is transfigured in illness, in the destruction of our flesh, in death. A gray pall wraps our world as darkness is welcomed by those who would destroy life, silence our words, imprison our thoughts. Our daily world has been turned upside down and we find ourselves in a dark cloud. But do we hear the voice calling us, the voice of love, in or perhaps through the cloud?
I planted some seeds last week in my garden, wondering if they would germinate. They were seeds from many years ago, seeds in a little packet that had been left over from a summer Sunday school class. I had low expectations, given the time passed, and not sure if a box in a hot garage was the best storage for these tiny bits of promise. I poured the packet into my palm. They were barely visible, so minute, and I scattered the seeds into the soil. I patted them under their earthy blanket, their cave-tomb, and watered them carefully.
And yet, green leaves are now shooting out of the dark soil. The black loamy surface is transfigured from death to life. Not transformed, for the seeds are the same as when they lay buried. But transfigured into what they were meant to become: leaves, stems, flowers.
Such life we take for granted, congratulating ourselves, thinking that we created it. We kill the unborn, thinking we have the right. We snuff out life all around us without a thought. And yet, there are moments when we pay attention, when we allow the darkness to be penetrated, when Christ himself transfigures us, moments when we listen.
I finished my prayer memorization (see last week), the morning prayer for freedom:
“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom, defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I confess that I missed a few words, but I’ll work on it, incorporate it into my other morning prayers written on my heart: the Our Father, the Venite, the Jubilate Deo, the Te Deum. For prayer transfigures. Prayer is like Christ on the mountain, a way to Heaven itself, a means to a joyful end. And prayers written by great theologians such as Thomas Cranmer reflect truth, and truth transfigures.
My bishop of blessed memory often said that to love is to suffer. And yet to love is to experience transfiguration inside the suffering, to know joy. It is a curious conundrum, a contradiction, like many in this world of spirit and matter, in this world of Heaven and Earth we do not fully understand. In this world of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
But for now, in the shadowy land of pandemic panic and rotting riot, our precious liberty and law no longer sacred, I will listen for the voice in the heavenly cloud. I will say my prayers, learn as many as I can by heart, with my heart, so that I will be able to hear His voice when He speaks to me. And when He speaks through my prayers, living in the words and the very breath I am breathing, I will breathe the Holy Name into my body, into my very flesh. I will string a rosary of words that carry me into His presence.
And I will be transfigured by joy.
All are welcome to visit the virtual services at St. Ann Chapel. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to their Zoom and Facebook list. For more about St. Ann Chapel, visit Saintannchapel.org.
The Goodreads Giveaway is now in progress for Angel Mountain, through August 18. Enter for a chance to win!