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Transfigured!

The Rev. Rita Harrison Mark 9:2-9


We have just heard the amazing story of Jesus and three of his disciples on the mountain, surrounded by glory, encountering Elijah and Moses, and the transfigured majesty and glory contained in that moment. This event is often described as the transfiguration of Jesus. Today, however, I want to share a different slant on this story with you. But first, let me tell you another story.


Once, there was a Christian hermit, who lived in a deserted place so he could completely immerse himself in God’s presence. From time to time, people would come to ask him for a word from God - a message that would awaken them to a greater awareness of God’s presence in their lives.


One day, he heard a knock at his hermitage door. When he went to the door and opened it, he saw a mother, father, and their young daughter standing there. “We are sorry to trouble you,” said the parents, but we need your help. Our daughter, as you can plainly see, has been turned into a donkey by an evil wizard. Please pray over her and heal her.”


“Yes, I see,” said the hermit, and he invited the small family into his home. Once they were inside and settled, he asked the girl if she was hungry and wanted something to eat. She said yes, and he prepared a simple meal for her and she began to eat. While she was eating, the hermit talked with her about things that mattered to her, asking her questions about herself and listening to her responses.


When the parents saw the affection and care with which the hermit tended to their daughter, their eyes were opened and they realized that the wizard had not cast a spell on the little girl, but upon them, leading them to believe that their daughter was a donkey. In seeing that the child was truly their daughter, whom they loved, they were filled with joy and tearfully embraced her. [adapted from: James Finley, The Healing Path: A Memoir and an Invitation, xix-xx.]


In the Eastern Orthodox traditions of the church, the story of the transfiguration is not a story about the transfiguration of Jesus. It is not Jesus who is transfigured. It is, instead, a story of the transfiguration of the disciples. In that moment, they see the glory that constantly surrounds them. They see that there is no veil between them and the divine realms.


They, and we!, are constantly surrounded by and filled with the very presence of God. God’s glory is always present. Unfortunately, though, we are blinded to the glory that surrounds us, like the parents of the little girl who can’t see the real - they see a donkey! How sad; how tragic!


However, that is not where we need to stay. Have you ever had an experience in which the glory of God or the magnificence of the world shone out for you? An experience in which you sensed the nearness of the holy? An encounter with the reality that is infinitely bigger than you are?


● Perhaps the moment of holding a newborn infant, in which you sensed yourself holding the universe.

● Perhaps a moment of singing or dancing in which you were momentarily transported to a different world.

● Perhaps a moment of extreme pain in which the boundaries between you “whatever else there is” were transcended.

● Perhaps a moment of intimacy with a friend or lover in which boundaries melted.


What was your moment of transfiguration, of seeing through the veil, of sensing the glory, presence, or union of God with you? It is so easy for us to discount these moments. They are so subtle, so fleeting, that we dismiss them by telling ourselves we imagined them. Or something more pressing comes up and we don’t want to waste time savouring them. We fear that others will think we’re a bit weird if we tell them of our experience.


However, in these moments, we are transfigured. We glimpse the deepest reality that is always present with us. We realize that we have seen the glory of God before we have tasted death. And it is crucial that we say to ourselves, “I will not break faith with my awakened heart.” The moment may be fleeting, it may be subtle, I may wonder whether it happened at all, but it did. It was real. And I will not deny it. I have seen the wonder of God. I will not break faith with my awakened heart, the heart that God has touched, ever so subtly, ever so fleetingly.


I want to close with a meditation composed by one of my teachers, James Finley, a mystic and psychotherapist:


James Finley, The Healing Path: A Memoir and an Invitation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2023), 72-74.


I will not break faith with my awakened heart, the heart that God has touched, ever so subtly, ever so fleetingly.


Amen.

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