Today our thoughts our thoughts are focussed on the Transfiguration – what are we to make of this mysterious event. We think about it on the Sunday before Lent so that through Lent itself and Passiontide we can keep in mind what will only be revealed on Easter Day – Jesus’ victory over sin and death – something very far from the suffering servant of God.
Well if its purpose was to prepare the disciples for “the scandal of the cross” it doesn’t seem to have been very effective as the rest of the gospels show. But certainly it should prepare us .
The transfiguration is about transformation metamorphosis as the Greeks call this feast. In a way that seems obvious – in transfiguration Jesus is transformed. But more than that the power which transforms Jesus, and power is the right word because in iconic representations of the Transfiguration the apostles, Peter, James and John are shown thrown back, rolling down the mountain, by the power emanating from Jesus. Because the power which transforms Jesus is the eternal glory of his godhead shining through – and entirely pervading his flesh.
And the glory which came dwell among us in Jesus is the same glory which we see first in the history of Israel, in the face of Moses when he comes down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. The glory which filled the Temple when Solomon consecrates it. The glory which rested upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, the glory which overshadowed Mary to make her the tabernacle of the Living God, the glory which has transformed the saints all down the centuries of the church’s history.
And above all, as St John says, we see that glory in Jesus himself, the glory of the only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. The glory which, for St John, is revealed as much on Calvary as in the garden of the resurrection and on the mount of the transfiguration.
And that same glory which transformed the saints can transform us. And that at the end of the day is the whole purpose of the life of faith – of the church – to transform men and women and through them to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
That is what worship and prayer is about. Too often we have the wrong idea about prayer. Trying to get God to do what we want – a projection of infantile fantasies of omnipotence – making God in our image. In Psalm 50 God chides the wicked for their misdeeds and goes on “These things have you done, and should I keep silence? Did you think that I am such a one as your self?”
The purpose of prayer is not to try and make God like us but to make us like God. But for that to happen we have to open ourselves to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Most of the sorts of prayer we are familiar with, ACTS, move from us to God, and that is something we can and should share – corporate prayer, corporate worship, sustains us and builds us up as the body of Christ. Some aspects of such prayer are inescapably corporate – such as the Eucharist. But the question is how can we turn things round and discover a form of prayer that moves in the opposite direction that moves from God to us?
Prayer that opens us to God’s transforming power is by its very nature an individual activity – we each have our own journey to make – for we are all different – of course we can learn from one another’s experience and we can receive guidance from a “soul friend” a spiritual director. A spiritual director will accompany you on your spiritual journey, walking beside you and ready to share your experiences and if necessary point out where God is at work, where God wants to change you. A spiritual director can also help you deal with distractions and spot those times when you being led away from God rather than towards God.
But basically prayer that enables God to transform us is and individual exercise, we need to embark on an individual journey – to do two things, first to find a way of opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit – if you like giving the Holy Spirit a way into our minds. Secondly we need to become aware of the way the Holy Spirit is working within us. One way of doing that is set out by S. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises. Very briefly, the first step, opening our minds, we can do through contemplation. Contemplation uses our imagination: take a Gospel story, visualise it, enter into it, then give your imagination free rein and see where the Holy Spirit takes you. The second step. Becoming aware of what God is doing in your life involves going back at end of each day over all the things that have happened and asking yourself how you felt about each of them, what were you conscious of, when did you feel the pull or push of the Holy Spirit. In that way you can become conscious of God at work in your life. You can become aware of your transformation.
That may all sound rather frightening; we are used to being in control of our lives, in charge of what happens to us and here we are being invited to hand over that control to somebody else – the Holy Spirit. But as S. Paul writes in today’s NT if we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, perhaps in the ways I have been suggesting, we will be set free to see the glory of the Lord and by that glory to be transformed from glory to glory. But a word of warning: we can only see the glory of the Lord if we walk in the Lord’s way and the Lord’s way is the Royal Road of the Holy Cross. So walking in his way will bring challenges and difficulties and perhaps even suffering
You may think this is not for you, but God loves each one of us, however unworthy we may feel of that love, however unworthy you may feel of that love, and God wants to transform you, to realise in you God’s image, the image in which you were created . There are as many pathways to that transformation as there are people. But there is only one ultimate outcome – that each one us should achieve our destiny as a son or daughter of God – that we should be transformed – transfigured – from glory to glory – until we attain the likeness of Christ.