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Posted by on Mar 13, 2022

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

A couple of years ago, a painting came home from school. It was a watercolor, folded in half, then in half again, and then yet again, until only 1/8 of the picture showed. The young artist was not happy with it and didn’t want even to talk about it. I looked at it and found it puzzling. There were blues and whites, with maybe a bit of yellow.   The colors had clearly run more than the artist had hoped. It looked like salt had been sprinkled on parts of the painting, resulting in irregular starburst-type shapes. There was a bit of red, some very light and some more streaked.

I didn’t understand what the picture was supposed to represent and he wouldn’t tell me. It was totally unclear to me which end was even supposed to be up! I put it on the side table with other things from school. There it lay for at least a week, probably longer, and I was still no closer to recognizing its theme.

I picked it up and turned it around once or twice to see if that made more sense. It still didn’t identify itself.

 

 

 

 

Finally, one day in early spring, I turned it one more time. And the image jumped out at me. My eyes, in a sense, had been opened to see its subject and its beauty. It was a snowman! I wondered how I could have not seen it all the other times I looked at it. It was so clear when my eyes looked at it from the right perspective.

It now proudly adorns our freezer.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent remind me of this experience with the snowman. In the first reading Abram and God have been talking. (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18) God has told Abram that he will have many descendants, even though both he and his wife are old and she has been unable to have children. Then God also promised that Abram’s descendants would possess the land into which they had traveled, following the Lord’s instructions. Abram and his extended family were not a lot of people. He questioned how they would ever possess a land belonging to so many other peoples.

There was a tradition among the peoples of the time to make covenants (legal agreements) in very visual ways. Animals were taken and sacrificed. The bodies were split in two and laid across from each other, making a pathway between them. Then the parties to the covenant would walk through the pathway. In this way they pledged that if they broke the covenant, the same thing might be done to them. It was not something to be taken lightly.

The Lord God told Abram to bring five animals – a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a pigeon – and sacrifice them. He was to place their carcasses in such as way as to create the ritual pathway. As the sun set, Abram entered into a deep trance and saw the Lord, represented by a fire pot and flaming torch, pass through, entering into the pathway between the sacrificed animals. In this way, the Lord pledged himself to a covenant with Abram and his descendants. Abram did not have to pass through the pathway for the covenant to be established. Only the Lord passed through. The land from Egypt to Mesopotamia (current Iraq) was to belong to the descendants of Abram. (Today these lands are still peopled by his descendants – both Arabs and Jews.)

Abram saw the glory of the Lord that night, entering into a sacred covenant.

The psalmist sings today of the deep presence of the Lord. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14) Don’t hide from me, but hear the sound of my call. The Lord is a refuge, so there’s nothing to fear. “I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living…” All is focused on the presence and light of the Lord. All wait to see that goodness.

St. Paul writes to the community at Philippi (Ph 3:17-4:1) to encourage them to continue living in the way he taught them when he was with them in person. Controversies regarding whether it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to be Christians had reached them as well. Paul reassures them that all that is necessary is to believe and live in faith as they have first learned from him. As Christians, their citizenship, their loyalty, is in heaven. As such, all hope is in the saving power of Jesus, who will change our earthly bodies into heavenly, glorified ones, bringing all things to himself. At this point in time, all that is needed is to stand firm in faith and live as his followers.

The final reading, from St. Luke, tells of a very special experience of seeing. (Lk 9:28b-36)

Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with him. As he prayed, his appearance changed, becoming filled with dazzling brightness. He was speaking with Moses (representing the Law and covenant) and Elijah (representing the prophets) when his friends woke up. They had fallen asleep as he was praying. They saw the glory that enveloped Jesus as he spoke with Moses and Elijah. Peter, ever the practical and impulsive one, offered to put up three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As he spoke, a cloud appeared and a voice spoke from the cloud. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Then the vision passed and Jesus was there alone. As they went back down the mountain, they were silent.

What was there to say? Who would ever believe it? Did they even see it? Imagine if you were witness to this kind of transformation of someone you thought you knew! You too might be at a loss for words or uncertain whether anyone would ever believe your words if you spoke of it.

We call this experience of Jesus the Transfiguration. A transfiguration is a complete change of form or appearance from the ordinary to something quite beautiful and extraordinary. In many ways, it’s a question of what is seen. On certain days, or in certain lights, or under certain conditions, we perceive quite ordinary things differently. Somewhat like the painting of the snowman.

How does Jesus’ transfiguration speak to me today? How does it speak to you? What wonderful things are there in life that are just waiting for me to see in all their splendor? Where does the glory of God peek through into my days and my world? How about yours?

May our eyes be opened today to see deeper than first glance – to see the glory of God present in our world.

Here’s an activity you can do with children to celebrate the Transfiguration.

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2013

Transfiguration: Letting the Glory of God Shine Through

Transfiguration: Letting the Glory of God Shine Through

 

The Transfiguration


The Transfiguration

On the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) we celebrate the day when Jesus, having taken three of his disciples to the top of a mountain to pray with him, experienced the presence of God so dramatically that the disciples saw the glory of God shine through his very being. The disciples witnessed Moses and Elijah visiting with Jesus and offered to build three tents so Jesus could stay in his glory with these representatives of the Law and the Prophets. Then a cloud covered the mountain top and those standing on it. The disciples recognized God’s presence in the cloud and heard the Father’s voice proclaim Jesus to be his chosen Son to whom they were to listen. The next moment they were alone again with Jesus. All were left feeling speechless to describe the experience. (Lk 9:28b-36) Only later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, were the disciples able to speak about what they had seen and experienced that day.

Did it really happen?

Looking back at the event with the perspective of nearly 2,000 years, we might wonder at the description of what happened and question how literally Jesus’ face “changed in appearance” and how his clothing could have become “dazzling white.” This is especially true because such statements are commonly used in apocalyptic literature when describing a Son of man or the Ancient One, as for example we see in the Book of Daniel 7:9-14. Was this simply a literary device to tell an audience familiar with such images that Jesus was truly the chosen one of God? Or is there some literal basis for the narration?

I have to admit that I don’t know which interpretation is factually true. I suspect, however, that what is reported in the gospels actually happened to Jesus pretty much as described. The reality of the divine is so much more vibrant, powerful, encompassing, radiant, loving, compassionate, respectful and gentle than we can imagine that, in a moment when Jesus was facing the probability that things might not go well for him in Jerusalem, the Father’s encouragement and gentle caress might well have such an effect.

Could it happen today?

Often when those who have had a “close encounter” with the divine speak of their experience, their faces shine with the joy of what they experienced. The newly baptized have a glow about them for weeks after their baptismal experience. Jesus himself told us that only those who became like little children would enter the kingdom of his father. The simple joy and wonder with which young children explore and enjoy their world, trusting that all they need will be provided for them, is the attitude presented as the ideal for the child of God. Though ordinarily most of us don’t consciously notice the radiance of the divine shining through each others’ faces and the wonders of creation, at special moments we do sometimes notice something different.

Is the radiance of divine love shining through a human face something that could happen to one who is not a divine person, not a member of the Trinity? I would argue that God’s love is to shine through each one of us. Perhaps not so obviously as it did through Jesus on the mountain top, yet even for Jesus, it was a brief moment that was followed by the return to what quickly became a very difficult reality. In the moments when we act with compassion and generosity to meet the needs of those less fortunate among us, the divine love shines through. In times when we hold the hand of one who is suffering, the divine love shines through. When we visit those who are in prison, or in the hospital, or home-bound, the divine love shines through. When we care for our children or go to our workplace or smile at a passerby, the divine love can shine through us as well. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me,” we are told.

God smiles in joy whenever love is given and received — and the glory of God shines through into our world!

 

Image by: JESUS MAFA. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48307 [retrieved August 7, 2013].

 

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