WHEN PICTURES BECOME WINDOWS

SCRIPTURE: 2 KINGS 2:1-12; MARK 9:2-9

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book, Who Needs God, has a very interesting

statement. He writes: “Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers, or

a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can’t change the

facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that

in itself can make a real difference.”


Of course, Rabbi Kushner is writing here about religion in general. In regards to

Christianity, I would offer one additional thought to Rabbi Kushner’s statement.

Christianity is “first and foremost” a relationship with the living Christ. I think most of us

would agree that within that relationship we are given a way of seeing ourselves, others,

and the world.


“Seeing is believing” means we only believe what we see. That is, what we can’t

see with our own eyes, touch with our own hands, and hear with our own ears…that is

what we know to be real. We can believe it because we have seen it. And yet, to rely

solely upon that kind of “hard” evidence – to reject as unreal or insignificant anything

that we cannot see or touch or hear, may be to keep us from that which is most real

and most significant.


But what might we “see” if we reversed that? What if, rather than taking what

we see in the world, and forming our beliefs about on that basis, we were to use our

faith in God and our relationship with Christ as a lens through which to see our world?

How might that change what we see?


There are times in our lives when we look around and wonder, “Is this all there

is?” Sometimes it’s just a passing question, other times it’s for a reason. We look at our

life, our circumstances, and we want more. There is a restlessness, a searching, and

longing for something else. Some call it a mid-life crisis. It can make us do crazy things

–this searching and seeking.


We get a new job, a new car, a new relationship. Maybe we take up a new

hobby, go on a trip, or work extra hours. But not much changes. The restlessness, the

desire for something more, generally means that we have been living at the shallow end

of the pool. Life and relationships have become superficial. We have been skimming

across the surface. In some ways life at the surface is easier, more efficient, encouraged

and rewarded by much of the world today. It fails, however, to see and experience that

the world is already transfigured and creation is filled with divine light.


Life on the surface keeps us judging the circumstances. We look at our

circumstances as a picture. If it is pretty, pleasing, and shows us what we want to see

then God is good and life is as it should be. When we don’t see what we want then we

often look for a new picture. The restless searching, the longing for more, the desire for

meaning are not, however, usually answered by changed circumstances. The answer is

found in depth, intimacy, and the vulnerability of the interior journey.


We do not need to see new things. We need to see the same old things with

new eyes. We do not need to hear a different voice. We need to hear the same old

voice with different ears. We do not need to escape the circumstances of our life. We

need to be more fully present to those circumstances. When this happens life is no

longer lived at the surface. These are transfigured moments, moments when the picture

of our life has become a window into a new world and we come face to face with the

glory of God.


Most of us, I think, seek God in the circumstances of life. We want God to show

up, be present, and do something. This is what God does. This is the God described in

Mark’s gospel up to the point of today’s reading. We might think about this as the first

part of the spiritual journey. It is the journey of discovering God in the circumstances.

This is what the disciples have been doing.


They have seen Jesus cast out demons, heal Peter’s mother-in-law, and cure the

sick at Capernaum. He cleansed the leper and made a withered hand new and strong.

Paralytics now walk, the blind see, and thousands are fed. This is the God about whom

people talk, the God that gets “likes” and “shares” on Facebook.


At some point we must, however, begin to discover the God who is beyond the

circumstances. This is the God who is. This is the second part of the spiritual journey.

That is where our gospel reading for today picks up. Jesus is leading Peter, James and

John, up the mountain to discover the God who is beyond circumstances. Here their

pictures of life’s circumstances will become windows by which they move into the depths

of God’s life, God’s light, and God’s love.


There on the mountain, the disciples saw Jesus “transfigured before them, and

his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” The

cloud overshadowed them and the Father’s voice spoke of his beloved Son. Peter wants

to build dwelling places. He wants to frame Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. “It is good for us

to be here,” he says. He wants to preserve it. He wants to take a picture.


Pictures, however, are static. On the Mount of Transfiguration our pictures of

life’s circumstances become windows through which we step into a new world, a new

way of seeing, a new way of hearing, and a new way of being. That’s what happened

for Peter, James, and John.


Jesus did not suddenly light up before the disciples and become something he

was not. The disciples were themselves transformed so that they could see Christ as he

had always been. The voice in the cloud was not new. Their ears were opened and they

heard the voice that has never ceased speaking from the beginning.


The transfiguration is as much about them as it is Jesus. Whenever our picture

of life’s circumstances becomes a window into new life we stand in a transfigured

moment. Circumstances haven’t changed. We have changed and that seems to change

everything. That is indeed the challenge before each of us…in each new moment…in

every place we happen to be.


Those transfigured moments are all around. Every one of us could tell a story

about stepping back from the picture of our life, seeing with new eyes, listening with

different ears, and discovering a window that opened into another world and another

way of being.


We call this story “transfiguration”. When we hear that word we might think of

change. The language and imagery of the story suggests change.


The story has lots of symbolism in it, including the former prophets of Moses and

Elijah. The mountain is an important symbol, where one encounters God, as did Moses

and Elijah, the color of white, the words attributed to God reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism.

All of this makes for a dramatic story of encounter with God and with one another.


Philosopher John O’Donohue gives a fresh perspective on the idea of

transfiguration. In his book, he writes: “Part of the beauty of Christianity is the utter

realism with which it engages suffering. At the heart of Christianity is suffering

embraced and transfigured. There is a depth of meaning to the term ‘transfiguration’. It

means much more than change. When a thing ‘changes,’ there is the suggestion that it

is no longer itself. A thing ‘transfigured’ is more fully itself than ever, and more: it is

irradiated with beauty…


“For thousands of years, the Cross has been a symbol of the transfiguration of

pain. It is a powerful, touching, and sacred symbol. In ancient times, the cross was a

sign of shame. People were crucified as criminals. The glory, light, and healing of

Christianity earn their way through the fire-path of great suffering.” (1)


The key phrase that caught my eye is: “A thing ‘transfigured’ is more fully itself

than ever.”


Those transfigured moments are all around. Everyone one of us could tell a story

about stepping back from the picture of our life, seeing with new eyes, listening with

different ears, and discovering a window that opened into another world and another

way of being.


We often want to go back to those transfigured moments. We are tempted to

build places for those moments. Booths, dwelling places, will only keep us in the past.

So Peter, James, and John came back down the mountain. They could not stay there

but neither did they leave the mountain. They took it with them. It is what would carry

them through the passion and crucifixion to the resurrection.


Transfigured moments change us, sustain us, prepare us, encourage us, and

guide us into the future regardless of the circumstances we face. They show us who we

are. We are the transfigured people of God. Open your eyes and see a transfigured

world. Open your ears and hear the transfiguring voice. Open your heart and become a

transfigured life. Every picture of life is an open window. Keep listening for God’s nudges

to become more fully who we are than ever before…irradiated with beauty.


God needs us fully alive in this world.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH


1. John O'Donohue, Eternal Echos, Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong.1999 Harper Collins Pub.
pp. 164-165

 
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