Thursday, August 6, 2009


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’

- Mark 9:2-13

Six days after Jesus' discussion about discipleship, suffering, and "coming in glory" (see yesterday's passage), Jesus takes his closest disciples up to the mountain where they have this experience. So, a taste of this glory is revealed to them, up a "high mountain apart." What that tells me, then, is that discipleship, suffering (taking up one's cross), and glory are inextricably linked.

I can't help but think these days, with my focus on contemplative prayer, of how different approaches to the suffering of the world must be part of the key to what we could call "enlightenment" - befitting today's bible passage. As I understand it, the Buddhist concept of releasing passions in order to cope with the suffering of the world is a key concept to enlightenment and spiritual practice within that discipline. And here Jesus presents to his disciples the suffering he will endure, and their own future in which they too will suffer through adversity to their message - resulting in "enlightenment" as well: the glory of transfiguration. I can't help but feel this deep connectedness within these teachings about the afflictions of the world and their redemption. As Christians, we too are taught that to detach ourselves from our passions and desires is part of our practice. Our spiritual freedom depends upon our capacity to give our desires to God, to Christ. This is to set ourselves right in the eyes of Creator, to shape our lives in this conscious understanding that it is this truth that makes us free. In that respect, it is similar to the idea that we are not to be slaves to our passions that one finds in Buddhist thought. Beyond that, serving this message of redemption, of transformation and even transfiguration in metanoia - repentance or "change of mind" - becomes a way of healing the world. We are to endure in this discipleship through the adversity - the suffering, the evil of the world. One word for evil in the gospels is poneros from the word ponos ("pain"). This is the word translated as "evil" in Mark 7:23 (see The human heart). Evil and suffering are connected; it is how we go through them that determines the redemption of the world. As Christians, we understand this light of transfiguration to be shared with us through worship, prayer and relatedness, helping us to becomes carriers of that energy and grace that transfigures the world.

In Transfiguration, as we see in this passage, Jesus' nature is revealed. Those disciples closest to him get a taste of the glory to which Jesus referred in yesterday's reading. We are allowed to see it for ourselves through the reading of this gospel. Jesus refers to Elijah having come in the person of John the Baptist. The figures of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets. The Cloud, of course, has already been seen in the Old Testament as that which gives Moses the Law, the voice of the Father familiar from Jesus' baptism by John (Elijah) in the Jordan. So, this glory - as imaged for us in the dazzling white - is linked through all, and it is the Father Who glorifies Jesus and declares his revealed identity to the disciples. This "enlightenment" is for us the revelation of true nature, true identity, we could say Jesus' true name. And as Christians we also share in this transfiguring light and its process of grace at work in us.

Transfiguration is shared with us here so that we may understand also what we share in this worship. That dazzling white is an image of glory, of the grace of God, which is also shared with us. When we enter into worship, we then ask that this energy of glory, of grace be something in which we too, participate. We ask to walk through the suffering of the world as participants in this grace, thereby helping - as disciples - to share in its redemption and transfiguration ourselves. I feel that this central event is crucial to our understanding of the spiritual nature of transfiguration and redemption of the world; we share in worship because we wish to participate in that same energy of grace, and to allow it to shape us, to shape our true identity and reveal it to us. There is a Buddhist koan about one's "original face." The Christian understanding of 'face,' of prosopon in the Greek, is crucial to our concept of image or icon - identity. We share in grace to discover our true image, our true face. Through worship, through that union with the energy of our source, we go through this transfigurative, transforming process that teaches us who we truly are. But it all depends upon what we choose to worship, and therein lies the choice for us all and the reason why we need to practice discernment, to learn awareness of who we are and what we choose within ourselves (see again The human heart).

Jesus' suffering then becomes the great mystery: why must our Savior endure the evil? Why rejection? Indeed, why must we? Why did John the Baptist/Elijah, as referenced in this passage? The will of the Father seems to be that the world be transfigured, through discipleship and service - and endurance of its ills is part of that Way as revealed to us through these passages. It's how we go through them that seems to be the key. But it all depends on what we choose to worship so that we too may become transfigured, changed, and share that with the world ourselves. We go to our "high mountain apart" for prayer and communion, and ask to share in that grace in order to practice discipleship in all its forms; to find our "true face."

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