Thinking Anew

A moment for transfiguration

Peter, James and John recognised that there was something extraordinary and spectacular about Jesus and we get lost in the haze of artistic interpretation.

Peter, James and John recognised that there was something extraordinary and spectacular about Jesus and we get lost in the haze of artistic interpretation.

 

There are many events that transfigure our lives, but transfigure is not the word we would usually use for them. Words like transform and convert describe when we change the ordinary into something extraordinary. Transfigure describes those moments when we discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

These discoveries usually change our perceptions and very often they change our lives.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. That was a transfiguration too. Humanity suddenly realised that it had the power to annihilate itself completely. On the outside our figures had not changed. We were the same size, shape and colour as before. Everything looked the same, but we understood each other differently. We had been transfigured.

It is unfortunate that we explain things best with dire examples. Things can transfigure for bad or for good and most transfigurations are good.

Acts of kindness

Peter, James and John recognised that there was something extraordinary and spectacular about Jesus and we get lost in the haze of artistic interpretation. The carpenter from a provincial backwater gets the glitzy trappings that we associate with human power. The majesty that chose humility has its greatness exposed and Jesus is transformed into Divinity not transfigured among us. The mask falls away and the attempt at being like one of us is rumbled.

This is a pity because we are naturally good at transfiguring things for ourselves. A lot of water falling over a cliff-edge is enough to get most people thinking loftily of majesty, power and beauty. Observing somebody holding a door open for a struggling person can transfigure our opinion and restore our hope in humanity. Looking at a new-born baby restores confidence and hope in human life. Things retain their forms: waterfalls, politeness and infants; what changes lies within us. We have imbued these simple tales with our recognition of faith, charity and hope (respectively).

When the church remembers the transfiguration on Mount Tabor we are celebrating the change that Jesus brought to the lives and understanding of Peter, James and John.

Divinity

We do not tend to focus very much on the impact on the three apostles. The story might not have been written to prove a point. It is far more likely to show how even the apostles took time to recognise who and what was with them. Three of them found it.

Peter’s first reaction was to suggest a shrine. Jesus did not encourage that suggestion, but a fine church stands on the site today.

The story of the transfiguration is something to appropriate and not something to enshrine. The building commemorates the event, but the event is commemorated wherever it is lived.

This feast is really a celebration of human joy. It blesses the times when we see something more than the banal in the ordinariness of our relationships, our friendships, our encounters, our works and our faith.

– FEARGAL MacEOINÍN