TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY REFLECTIONS ON 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6 AND MARK 9:2-9 - FR. TONY MOON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
February 14, 2021
Fr. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
I was a “day-dreaming child.” During school days, my mind was on adventures miles away. I could construct things in my thoughts and then be completely surprised when I returned to “reality” only to discover that that thing didn’t exist at all! After school, my brother could find me changing my clothes—only I was statue-like, in the pose of one-little-boy-leg out of his slacks and one-little-leg-still-in-them, all while staring out the window for some considerable time, absorbed in my inner life.
Probably as most adults, I spend less time daydreaming now than when I was a youngster. I admit, when I have the time to dream things up, it’s good—only more intentional now! I’ve noticed dreaming up things happens easily on airplanes. …not recently, of course—and unfortunately—but my time on planes is usually fairly productive, speaking for my imagination. If I have a course to design or want to consider the construction of a piece of woodwork, a blank sheet of paper, a soft lead pencil, some time on my hands, and soaring above the clouds is a good combination to get things done. Visioning on a plane seems to make sense, because in a very real way I’m detached from my earthly moorings; I’m naturally in a 30,000-foot, big-view level—closer to the heavens than to the plains of Oklahoma; my mind lets loose a little and seems a little freer. Dreams can be released to find me.
I wonder if there might have been some similar feelings when Peter, James and John set up that high mountain. But way beyond simple feelings of being freed of earthly bonds to relax and conjure up the unimagined, the transfiguration was no doubt a sight never before seen or imagined, and shot sheer terror through these men. Seeing your friend turned to light—phenomenal, wonderous…puzzling to say the least! Amazing beyond any kind of amazing they’d yet seen from their magnificent miracle-worker! And, beyond the luminous figure of Jesus, to see the figures of now long-dead Elijah and Moses…must have sent them reeling! The capstone of the event could only be the voice of God—proclaiming that Jesus was his Son, his beloved. The voice of God, demanding, “Listen to him!” And, no doubt, they did.
Frightening, confusing, surreal…and yet, holy. Transformational. Ecstatic. A thin place where the divine was made manifest. Wanting to capture the moment, to hold onto this wildly holy ride, we know that the Apostle Peter suggests to Jesus that they build dwelling places there on that mountain. And just as suddenly, the light is gone; Moses and Elijah, vanished; Jesus standing alone. The law and the prophets (Moses who brought the ten commandments down another mountain, and Elijah, a major prophet of old) were gone now, leaving only Jesus.
A holy, transformational thin place. You may have heard of that term, thin place, which comes to us from Celtic Spirituality. These are places where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin, where you can walk in the two worlds—where these worlds are fused together, maybe knitted together loosely where the differences can be discerned, or knitted together tightly where the two worlds become one, where heaven and earth come closer. The transfiguration of Jesus occurs in one such thin place, a place that disorients us from our old habits of perceptions, old ways of seeing and managing ourselves in the world, and jolts us into new ways of seeing and understanding.
Disorienting and re-orienting with a jolt! Old ways of seeing and behaving evaporate and we are quickly transported to new ways of seeing and understanding. It’s no wonder that Peter wanted to stay on a little longer, actually live in this mountain top experience. Who could blame him? But if you’ve ever had a peak experience, you know they are fleeting. They happen, we are elated and then they are gone and we return to the realities of this world, maybe changed, maybe re-aligned or transformed in some way… but, this world is where we “live and move and have our being.”
Maybe by now, you’re wondering if you’ve ever had an experience of a thin place. Or, maybe you can identify one that caused a shift in your own self. And maybe you’re thinking, “an ecstatic mountain top experience? These thin place experiences sound great, but I don’t think I’ve ever had one.” Well, while they are gifts from God, they seem to be more of an unexpected result of our efforts at relationship-making with God than of our own construction. Certainly, such was the case with Peter, James and John. And, most certainly this was the case with Jesus.
I’ve always thought of thin places as those places and situations just like where these apostles found themselves: A mountain top spiritual high; majestic and wonderful. And now I’m questioning that. I wonder if the thin place isn’t any place where we are jolted out of our old habits into new ways of being, and also experiencing God afresh. Certainly, this is no mountain top experience, but maybe even this pandemic could be a thin place. I know this has been true for me. My old habits of meeting with family and friends have been disrupted; my old habits of greeting others with handshakes and hugs have not happened in a year; my old habits of often eating in restaurants has given way to me becoming friends with our kitchen. Our Christmas ritual of gathering with our beloved family was re-oriented to opening presents and having those endearing conversations with kids and grandkids on Zoom—even though they live nearby. I know that we’ve all had a good deal of our daily and even seasonal habits change in dramatic ways. But what about seeing God afresh?
If we’re looking for God, I think the pandemic may have caused us to see God with new eyes, too. If anything, I think most of us have been pressed into relying on God more as we learn new limitations. One of the first events that caused this for me was a pastoral call for someone who’d been hospitalized. Immediately I dropped into my old mode of thinking and doing, pre-COVID. I was knocking around home when I received the call, and immediately thought, “I’ll change to black clothes and a collar, and hop on over to the hospital.” “Not so fast,” was my second thought as I remembered that I could not even gain entrance into the hospital to see the patient. The result was lots of conversation on the phone and via text, and lots of prayers. I could not be of service in the same old way, and I felt really hamstrung. What was I to do? And then came the recognition that I was not in charge here. God could attend to someone in healing ways that I cannot even imagine, while I could not even gain entry to sit next to them. God was in control. God is in control. God always has been in control, even when I imagined that I was offering comfort, it really was God’s comfort that I was offering. As a result of this thin place, I have more fully recognized God’s great power. I’ve more fully discerned my relationship with God, who God is in my life. Now, that’s reorienting! And it definitely did not happen on a mountain top, but it happened in my daily life. It actually happened in a valley. But it happened because I was looking for where God could show up in this sad situation.
So, I think thin places where we meet God and walk in a world different from our habituated one can happen to us all. These thin place experiences can happen on mountain tops, for sure. And they can happen in our everyday experiences… even at times that seem like the lowest. My friends, keep looking for God, and walking with God! Let God be that illuminating presence in your life, that transformational transfiguration of your own life. Allow the light of Jesus to overcome you!
~ Rev. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.