August 6, 2020

Feast of the Transfiguration 2020

Did you know there’s a Christian holiday that celebrates the sacredness of mountains? It’s called the Transfiguration, and it takes its name from a Bible story. Jesus took Peter and two other disciples up on a high mountain, where Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. His face “shone like the sun” and his clothes became “dazzling white.” The Voice of God rang out and the disciples fell to the ground in terror.

Everything is different when we go up in the mountains, right? Daily life is left behind, with all its habits and routines. That’s why mountain outings can be so refreshing, and why people have always gone there to seek visions. Bishop Steven Charleston wrote that “Matthew 17:1-8 has all of the classic elements of a traditional Native American quest. Jesus has prepared himself; his lament is so deep that he has predicted his own death. He goes up to a high place, accompanied by spiritual supporters, and stands alone before God. A vision occurs, so powerful that his friends actually see it.”[1]

[1] Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, p. 120

That experience came at a turning point in the Gospel story. Peter had just identified Jesus as the Messiah, but when Jesus foretold what would happen in Jerusalem, Peter couldn’t believe it. He was stuck in his mindset, and nothing Jesus could say would change that.

Peter needed to be shaken out of his stubbornness, which is what happened on the mountain. That’s exactly what we and our whole society need right now in order to survive. We need to be transformed, growing out of our greedy fixation on control and opening ourselves to the power of the Spirit.

What we call Transfiguration comes from the Greek word “metamorphosis.” For some insects and amphibians that’s a process of transforming from an immature form (like a caterpillar) to an adult (a butterfly). All caterpillars do is crawl around and eat. They can grow to 100 times their original weight, storing up food for the adult stage. After their glorious transformation most butterflies don’t live long, but they get to focus on mating and laying eggs.

What happens in-between is the critical chrysalis stage, when the caterpillar surrounds itself with a sack and hangs in the darkness while big changes take place. Kind of like Jesus lying in the tomb for three days before his resurrection…

I think that’s where we Americans are at as a people right now. So many of us have been fattening ourselves like caterpillars, but one way or another we’re coming to the end of that stage. A glorious future awaits us, but for now we’re stuck in the darkness waiting for transformation.

It’s time for us to seek a new vision of how we can live healthier and more compassionate lives. The wisdom of Native people and the Bible tells us, “Go up on the mountain. Purify yourself and stand before your Creator. Open your eyes and ears and heart, and you’ll receive the guidance you need.”

What are we waiting for?