Transfiguration is not a word that gets much play in everyday conversation, not even in church. And if it wasn’t for this Gospel story, many of us may not even think too much about the meaning of it. We might think it sounds a lot like transformation and therefore assume the meanings are similar. And that is true, but not completely.
Transfiguration is about a change in outward appearance, such as we heard happen to Jesus up on that mountain, whereas transformation is more about change that happens within, hidden from sight, until it’s not. Think of a woman who is expecting a child. As the child grows within her, her outward appearance changes. In addition to the obvious “baby bump,” we often hear that she looks different, that she is radiant or “glowing.” The transformation taking place within her is manifesting in her outward appearance – in her transfiguration.
The opposite can also be true. Before I was able to gain a foothold in recovery twenty-five years ago, the toll my addiction was taking on my body was severe. The internal changes in my body, mind, and spirit were inching me closer to death and it showed in my outward appearance. I was gaunt with sunken features and pale, oily skin. The eyes were the most haunting – shallow, dark, and desperate. They revealed the truth of whom I had become. It was transfiguration at its worst.
What Jesus experienced on the mountain that day was transfiguration at its very best.
So, transfiguration is about the inner transformation shining forth in one’s appearance. In words familiar to many of us, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.
That day on the mountain was a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus, and it’s a turning point for us as well. Up until this moment, Jesus’ ministry was all about teaching and preaching throughout Galilee. But from this moment on, his sights will be firmly set on Jerusalem and his destiny with the cross. That’s what makes this moment so big. It is so big in fact, that it conjures the spirits of Moses and Elijah, not to mention the Divine Voice from above. Yeah, that voice. The voice of God herself instructing us to listen to her beloved son Jesus. And listen we should. And follow. Follow him down the mountain toward our destiny.
Soon, we begin our journey on the road to Jerusalem. On Wednesday, as followers of the way of Jesus, we will offer ourselves to be marked with ashes. And we will remember. We will remember that it was from dust that we came and to dust we shall return. The forty-day journey along the road to Jerusalem will be one of going inward – one of uncovering, discovering, and discarding truths about ourselves. We should be changed – we should be transformed by the journey.
Prisons might seem to some as an unlikely place for such transformation to take place, but it does. Some of the most power stories of transformation I have encountered have been with friends in jails and prisons. Listen to these words from our friend Scott who lives in San Quentin State Prison: “God has instilled in me to offer unconditional love to everyone I come into contact with. Love doesn’t cost anything. God gave us love to spread throughout the world. I will continue to share my love at San Quentin, and I will do the same when I get out.” These are words of transfiguration that speak from a transformed heart.
The same is true for our friends in recovery. These men and women have been down the hard road, and they have found the narrow gate that leads to real life. It isn’t the easy way. In fact, I think the path to real personal transformation is the road less traveled. Alcoholics Anonymous says this: “Almost none of us liked the self-searching, the leveling of our pride, the confession of our shortcomings which the process requires for its successful consummation.”
The road to and authentic spiritual life is not easy. But it can be done, and it is what the journey through the forty days of Lent is inviting us to. The forty-day Road to Jerusalem that begins on Wednesday invites us to deep self-reflection that can foster new awareness and real change in our lives. Why would we settle for anything less than the absolute best version of ourselves that this season of Lent is calling us to?
Let us pray.
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the One you long for long for you.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
Brother Dennis, CDL +