Luke 9:28-43 / Transfiguration Sunday
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,
On a Sunday morning I sat in the pew and heard another sermon devoid of inspiration and joy. The message was the usual reminder that, like Peter, we are sinners who always get it wrong. The so-called gospel went something like: Jesus comes down off the mountain, where any self-respecting Savior would remain, and joins the sorrows and struggles of life. “Your life may still be shit, but at least Jesus is right there with you.” OK, so the pastor didn’t actually say this, but she mine as well have.
This was Transfiguration Sunday. A day which evokes the luminous and the resplendent. I so desperately wanted to be reminded of the transcendent Jesus brings down off the mountain and gives to you and me.
With Rumi, I wanted to stand on the pew and shout, “Stop acting so small! You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
So Peter got confused. He thought the luminous was restricted to the mountaintop, and soon learned it was as much his as it was Jesus’. This isn’t cause for a finger wagging, “I told you so.” It’s an opportunity to return to our brilliant selves. Who among us hasn’t forgotten our radiance from time to time? The question is, how do we find our way back? Not to the mountaintop, but to that authentic place inside of us which holds our radiance.
The summer after my sophomore year in college I took an ecological internship at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, part of the University of Minnesota. I knew nothing about plants and don't have a scientific bone in my body. But I could swing a mallet to nail down posts and weed with the best of them. The summer before that I spent three months driving tractors and laying irrigation pipe for an agricultural research unit attached to the University of Nebraska. All of this makes me sound legit, but I for the life of me don't know how I or the tractors came out unscathed (well, almost).
I lived in a house, called Burr Oak, with five other young women about a mile from the main compound: Hope, Lea, Tiffany, Wendy, and Amanda. Each morning we'd strap on our bike helmets and ride through the backwoods of Minnesota to spend the day in the sun and dirt. A friend I corresponded with through letters that summer told me we sounded like a bunch of "damn hippies." I took that as a compliment.
I had somehow acquired a mix tape my brother made for a girlfriend, and I'd listen to it on my morning runs. I ran to the voices of Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Wallflowers. In the evenings my dinners almost always consisted of pasta and a jar of spaghetti sauce.
On the weekends we played, a lot. We spent one weekend in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the vacation home that belonged to Amanda's grandparents. In classic Finnish style we sat in the sauna until we couldn't bear it any longer, and then ran, by the light of the moon, the fifty feet to the lake. Another weekend we drove up to Lake Superior to stay in the vacation home of family friends that Hope knew. There we went sailboating during the day and sat in the sauna by night. Hope also invited us for a weekend at her home in rural Minnesota. We spent most of it in the sauna. I don't know what it was about that summer and saunas. Maybe it was the thrill of being nearly naked together. Nudity creates its own kind of bond.
One Friday evening we had a party at Burr Oak. During the course of the evening I had a conversation with a beautiful young man I fancied who said he preferred women with leg and armpit hair. There was really nowhere to go from there. I had neither.
Later that night I discovered a group of people in the basement smoking pot next to the washer and dryer. I didn't know what the crime rate was in rural Minnesota, and I didn't plan to find out. I shooed them out of their pot hole.
But the “quintessence of life” moment, to quote the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, came the first time I saw the Northern Lights. Late one night we sat on a remote highway, our backs on the pavement and our legs in the air. We watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky, while the cicadas and bullfrogs harmonized to the celestial show. There we sang, and laughed, and moved our legs in unison as though we were a group of synchronized swimmers.
Years later I'd find myself recalling this memory when my life didn't measure up. I found a piece of my authentic self under the night sky seventeen years ago. I'd later abandon her, and then rediscover her again. The Northern Lights are how I found my way back.
Transfiguration Sunday is an invitation to find our way back to our authentic, brilliant selves. It recalls our authenticity, which is the source of our radiance. Because you are the universe in ecstatic motion.
What is one of your “quintessence of life” moments?
How would you describe your authentic self (a.k.a. your radiance) through this moment?