Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

I’ve been reading “The World as Sacrament” by Michael Plekon.    In his book, he highlights a number of authors and spiritual writers; one being Marilynne Robinson.  I read her novel, “Lila” two summers ago.  She’s quoted as saying:

Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me…that there are two sides to your encounter with the world.  You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience.  (p.147)

With this in mind, I recall Thomas Merton’s experience in March, 1958.  He writes about it in his “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”.  Something happens while standing on the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville that change for good his way of seeing.  He’s in town to run errands for the monastery where he’s lived for nearly 17 years.  People rush past him as he waits for the light to turn.  Though he doesn’t know a soul, he feels a common bond with them all; that he loves them.  And he reflects:

I loved all those people, they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.  It was like waking from a dream…

This “dream” Merton alludes to was the life of monastic renunciation and “supposed holiness”.  Entering the monastery he did so to flee the world so he might seek God alone.   On the corner of 4th and Walnut he sees that as illusion.  There, he begins to see that “the gate of heaven is everywhere”; that “separateness” is an illusion.  I would add he arrives at this insight   because of his monastic life and way of prayer.  What happened on that corner validates the authenticity of that prayer as he sees perfect strangers “all walking around shining like the sun.”  For Merton, his way of seeing is transfigured; never quite the same again.

I believe this helps us fathom what is happening to the 3 disciples on the mountain in today’s gospel and on this feast of the Transfiguration.  The face of Jesus shines like the sun; his clothes white as light.  Like waking from a dream, they see Jesus as he truly is, and as we truly are; human nature suffused with the divine.  Time slips away as Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah.  The Irish believe there is a “thin place” between this world and the next, and the 3 disciples experience just that.  The gate of heaven is everywhere.  Mystics would call this a “unitive experience”; seeing everything in a “single ray of light”.

This illusion of separateness Merton addresses plagues our world and keeps us in the dark when it comes to who we truly are in God’s eyes.  Often, we are exclusionary in our behavior and logic, losing sight of the common good.  The recent debacle over healthcare is proof of that; also the denial over the environment and the sea-change happening around the globe, our common home.     More than ever, we need to wake up; to live by the light of the gospel and the teaching Jesus offers; all of it meant to illumine our lives with presence and meaning.   Merton concludes:

If only we could see others as we really are…there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty and no more greed.  (Pp.140-42)

If only.  Yet the realists and cynics of our time doubt that could ever happen.  Nevertheless, I choose to stand with Jesus and the illuminative truth revealed on the mountain; a light more real than the bleak logic of cynics and deadpan realists because we are made for the light; for this way of seeing Christ reveals.

Father Tim Clark, pastor


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