Catherine Cassidy, ‘Untitled’ (detail), 2022. Polymers, aerosol, paper, felt tips, graphite, oil sticks, nut oil on birch panel.
‘By this light we are dazzled’
Transfiguration, Year C
We are sometimes dazzled by power and money, by celebrity or aristocracy … by any number of smooth, shiny baubles – alluring, beguiling.
We are sometimes dazzled by efficiency or productivity (and blind to the human cost, the social or environmental damage).
We are sometimes dazzled by demonic light shows – dazzled by technology, military might, war.
In which light are we held? By whose light are we dazzled?
A related question concerns beauty. What do we regard truly beautiful?
I’ve mentioned previously the work of Swiss theologian Hans Ur von Balthasar who understands true beauty as the glory of God – the glory of God shining in the gospel, through the stories of Jesus and friends, through the Cross as symbol of compassion, in the goodness of creation, salvation/wholeness, grace.
We are held in the light of the glory of God. By this light we are dazzled … by love, nothing less.
Transfigured: transformed into something beautiful, indeed, made beautiful. On earth as it is in heaven. Planet Earth in the light of (the) heaven(s).
To be dazzled by the beauty of love is to be dazzled by a revealing/reveiling divinity … the “ineffable splendour of the one nature in three hypostases/persons” (St Gregory Palamas, 14th century).
Something like that happened on Mount Tabor, the new Sinai (“high” or “thin” place of revelation) for Peter, John and James (according to their capacity – as though in a dream, as though awakened). It can happen for us, too.
It can happen that our sense of what helps and heals us (truth, goodness and beauty) is transfigured, altered. Sometimes, to see things in even slightly new ways is dazzling.
I’m dazzled by my art school experiences … which seem nearer as I renew a relationship with beloved art materials and subject matter …
I’m dazzled by early encounters with liberation theology and the miracles of hospitality at St Vinnies for Youth in Marrickville, Newtown, Campbelltown … in more recent encounters via readings from the Gospel in Solentiname … “God accompanied the people during the Exodus in the shape of a cloud … they were enveloped by the mystery of God” (Ernesto Cardenal).
I’m dazzled to have seen the material world as the manifestation of divine action (when did that happen?) – the sacraments (Jesus, church, bread, wine, water, oil, scripture, icons …) as events of divine embodiment …
I’m dazzled to have seen, on many occasions, Nehumi Holameitonga gently guiding his grandchildren, giving them space to be and grow, so proud of them – and, in Sini, James and Netta, the light received, a dignity conferred …
In our gospel reading, when the three disciples see Jesus transfigured, they see Moses and Elijah standing there talking with him. Moses (on the right) was the great liberator, Elijah a defender of the poor and oppressed.
Process theologian Catherine Keller sees:
“Far from any supersession, the cloud powwow performs Jesus’s non-separability from the ancient spirit ancestors. He enfolds his collective in a solidarity with those that came long before them; the deep repetition prepares them to face the impossibilities of their future. Of betrayal, pain, loss, abandonment – but before that and after, still before us now, still barely possible, of the gathering of a planetary movement.”
Jesus enfolds us in the Spirit of Moses and Elijah (famous for mountaintop revelations) and brings to fulfillment ancient and resonant desires for justice (restorative justice) and peace (inter-generational, sustainable).
“This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to him!”
I am dazzled, above all, by this – the beloved before me, here and now. The victim of hypocrisy, homophobia and abuse. The survivor of colonial demands, disrespect, indifference.
“This is my Own, my Chosen One. Listen to her!”
The challenger of patriarchal control, heteronormativity. The lover of fig trees, forests and flowing rivers.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the start of a 40-day journey through Lent. Throughout the churches, catechumens will prepare for baptism into a life of radical hospitality.
As we undertake the journey, we’ll be invited again to reflect on the cost of living out such a radical love in a violent/repressed/hypocritical world.
And as we do, I pray that we’ll be given new insights into the person and work of Jesus (into all that helps and heals us and the world); that Christ may be transfigured before our eyes; that we may be converted to deeper and brighter life together … and, indeed, made beautiful. Amen.