Saturday, August 06, 2005

Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, a day that's slipped quietly passed many of our churches. Judging from the Zeitgeist in mainline churches these days, that may be cause for some to breathe a sigh of relief that they don't have to deal with another one of Jesus' miracle stories.

My friend Derek has written an excellent meditation on the Creeds, and the tension we 21st century Christians experience as we try to reconcile our own contemporary ideas about how the world works with the affirmations of the ancient Church. I agree with his conclusion: that it's possible, viewing the story of Christianity through a faith lens, to simultaneously understand it in light of several, sometimes seemingly contradictory, worldviews; that that is a tension we can and do live with as people of faith.

That is how I tend to read Scripture these days. I don't have a need to read every story of the Bible as an historical, factual account to make it a true, reliable account of God's engagement with humanity; on the other hand, I don't have a need to deconstruct the Bible into a series of quaint, engaging campfire stories with little or no basis in historicity. To me that's a false dichotomy, and I'm just not going there.

So what do I think about the Transfiguration? I think that something happened to Jesus' close associates with him there on that mountain; whether the something was exactly as described in the Gospels or not is not of particular concern to me. I believe that Theophany Happens. (Wouldn't that be a great bumper sticker?) Heck -- I know it happens, because it's happened to me.

Which brings me to my point. I've had skeptical people ask me, if all these remarkable things were happening around Jesus all the time, as the Gospels record, then why were the disciples so damned stupid? If Jesus' friends experienced this particularly dramatic and amazing numinous event, which practically spelled out "Hey -- here's your Messiah!"...why didn't they get it? Why did they let Jesus down in the end? How on earth could they lose their grip on their personal experience of Jesus' special connection to Divinity over and over and over again?

To which I'd reply: Because they were people. People like me.

It's amazing how soon you can forget large chunks of the most formative, dramatic events of your life. I was thinking about this the other day, during one of my evening walks. The day that, as a small child, I almost fell to my death after climbing to the top of a farm elevator and tumbling into our corn crib...the day I arrived at college, after a bitter several-year battle with my father, who was not a proponent of higher education -- a day I'd longed for since I was a child, and a day upon which I knew my future hinged...the day my father died...the day I came out to myself...the day I decided I was through with Christianity...the day I gave up, and told Jesus, "You win" -- you'd think these experiences would be permanently seared into my memory. But I just remember flashes of them -- an image here, a feeling there. Even my recent dramatic encounter with the Divine, the night it became clear to me that I was being called to do something with my faith...at the time it felt more real to me than my sitting here typing at this moment, but now my recollection of the event is fuzzy; I actually had to reread what I'd written about my experience at the time to refresh my memory. And that was true even shortly after these things happened. A week after my peri-midlife metanoia experience...pretty much business as usual.

So to me it's entirely believable that the disciples experienced event after event that pointed to Jesus as someone and something other than just a particularly charismatic reformist rabbi, but then...life happened, and things got blurry. I've lived this; I continue to live it. One day God seems so close to me that I have almost a tactile impression of God's presence; the next day I'm in a bout of existential despair, the previous day a dim memory at best. This is just how it goes with us.

So why doesn't God fix this sad state of affairs, so that we live in a constant state of theophany, instead of a haze of half-rememberings? I don't know. Maybe it's because our minds can only process so much, whether an event of everyday life or an event when God breaks through to us in a special way. But once upon a time, in the now-defunct magazine Daughters of Sarah, I saw a most evocative drawing; it showed a woman, walking along a path, caught by the artist in the moment of half-turning to respond to...well, we don't know what. But the woman's expression of surprise and expectation and hope -- I think that, for whatever reason, we need that. We need that sense that there's a next chapter in the story. The forgetting "makes all things new," over and over again.

"Transfiguration," batik, Solomon Raj Posted by Picasa

15 comments:

Songbird said...

You are clearly my vacation worship center, LC. This was right on target.
"Even my recent dramatic encounter with the Divine, the night it became clear to me that I was being called to do something with my faith...at the time it felt more real to me than my sitting here typing at this moment, but now my recollection of the event is fuzzy; I actually had to reread what I'd written about my experience at the time to refresh my memory."
Is this somewhere on the blog? I would like to read it (before I begin telling you what I think the answer is-hah!).

Bag Lady said...

"if all these remarkable things were happening around Jesus all the time, as the Gospels record, then why are the disciples so damned stupid?"

The Gospels are told so that we get caught up in them somewhere -- especially in the parables. And we never want to be the ones who don't get it -- we want to be "in the know."

But I kinda think that, without benefit of the Gospels putting us "in the know," many of us would be more or less like the disciples.

Tough thing to face.

Mary said...

This really resonates with me... only yesterday I was rereading something I wrote as part of the process of discernment for ordination training, about how God has spoken to me and called me, and it was almost as if I was reading about a different person. I seem to have tamed, encircled, constrained, the power of the experience - somehow dumbed down the power of the God I met. Over this weekend so many things have made me aware of this, and now your post has crystallised it for me. Thank you so much...

PS I'm quite sure if I'd been around in Jesus' time I'd have been very dubious indeed about his credentials, and would have argued how improbable it was that Messiah could be now, here, in front of me.....

Kathryn said...

Thanks LC...you sparked off a reflection about this horribly familiar process for me too, which I've blogged about. WHY do we do it???

LutheranChik said...

Sometimes I think that when we encounter God it's such a shock to our consciousness that we can't process it all...it's like being in an accident, or having a health crisis, that's so overwhelming that one's mind tends to blank much of it out.

One of the reasons why I'd really like to explore getting some spiritual direction is to talk to a spiritually wise person -- someone with some quality mileage on the spiritual-practice odometer -- and ask her, or him, this question. Because it irritates me so that one day I can be so engaged in my spiritual practice, so cognizant of God's presence, and then the next day I'm just going through the motions. Someone once told me that we're like radio receivers, and when our reception of God fades in and out like this it's a function of our own faulty wiring, as it were...well, how do you fix that? It's not as if I want to be walking around in an ecstatic daze all the time, but I would like to have a more -- what's the word I want? -- steady experience of God's presence and response to that.

LutheranChik said...

Mary, I had to write one of those "faith stories" for the lay ministry program I'm in, and in reading it I noted how I too had tamed down my experience. Maybe I was afraid the authority figures down at the Synod office would be afraid they were taking on someone who wore a tinfoil hat and talked to imaginary friends.;-)

Maybe there needs to be a support group for mainstream-type Christians, to give them safe, affirming space to talk about their own spiritual experiences. Too bad that oftentimes our churches are not those safe and affirming spaces.

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J.C. Fisher said...

I insist that the Transfiguration was Real Enough . . . because it produced some of my absolute favorite icons. :-)

What you said, LC, about multiple worldviews: brings to mind Einstein. "A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of little minds."

(Was that really Einstein? Such a marvelous, veddy English quote, for a non-native speaker!)

bls said...

No, it's Emerson.

PastorTom in Ontario said...

When did Transfiguration get moved to the last Sunday in the Epiphany season? Paul Bosch writes the following:

"In some Christian traditions the Festival of the Transfiguration is celebrated on August 6. But its position here--as the Sunday which closes the Epiphany season, just before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday--is inspired. It has the effect of rescuing this important event from the typical inconsistencies of mid-week Summer worship schedules, affording a satisfying and graceful transition from Epiphany to Lent, and providing a more substantial showcase for the themes of the day.

"Is the Transfiguration a post-resurrection appearance misplaced to an earlier date by the evangelist? Or is it legitimately its own unique pericope: a preview of coming attractions? In any case, preachers will be forgiven for misinterpreting the Gospel texts for the day, at least at first instinct, as a kind of "Superman pericope": Mild-mannered Clark Kent steps into the phone booth and emerges to reveal himself as the Man of Steel, "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound"--that kind of thing. But the temptation to treat these texts thus should probably be resisted; better to focus on those gracious words from the cloud, "This is my Son, my beloved...," and to apply them to the gathered congregation as well. In Christ we are to serve as "Christ" to one another, as Luther reminds us.

"Significantly, says a Luther scholar, the diminutive "little Christ" is nowhere present in Luther. Luther maintains we are to serve simply "as Christ." The anointing with oil in Baptism is a recurring reminder of that honour: "Christ" is Greek for "anointed." "Messiah" is the same in Hebrew. It follows that in Baptism we are anointed, that is, "made Christ." To coin a phrase, in Baptism we are set apart to share in Jesus' own "messiahing" of the world. "This is my child, my beloved..." is thus, in Baptism, addressed to each believer."

LutheranChik said...

Tom, that's a very good point, and one that dovetails into the Finnish Lutheran dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox on the topic of theosis. I find this a really engaging discussion, and I wish it would trickle down into our intradenominational dialogue faster...not only is it a very intriguing idea in its own right, but it's a good antidote to the sort of thinky deconstructionism we tend to fall into as a tradition, that marginalizes and disheartens laypeople.

Jason said...

I dont usually comment on blogs. But your one on the transfiguration - how its just true, either as fact or as theology or as the wild poetry of someones faith - it is true to us. i dont have to belive it to be historically true and nor do i have to deconstruct it down to nothingness. thank you for that freeing language.

Jason said...

hi

i dont usually comment on blogs. thank you for the langauge about not worring i f its historically true or not and not having to deconstruct every last tid-bit. very freeing.

god bless.

LutheranChik said...

Jason: I'm glad you found it helpful.

I get so tired of fundamentalist-Spongian-smackdown theological discourse. They're two sides of the same coin.