Feast of the Transfiguration – Sunday 6 August 2023

I recall once, in a previous parish, having to deal with a terrible termite infestation.  One of the rooms in the parish office needed particular attention. I was standing there, looking down at the boards hollowed out by the voracious termites, admittedly feeling rather crestfallen at the implications, when the technician, explaining in great detail the procedures he was implementing, suddenly sparked, “I just love my job!”

His exclamation, which was clearly sincerely felt, was like a real ray of light into my anxiety.  His enthusiasm for the technology that is behind the system we were considering implementing, and his obvious joy at what he was accomplishing in the termination of the termites, was like of bolt of light, and it stayed with me throughout the rest of the day.  I went away thinking how blest I had actually been by the conversation.  In a simple statement of a few words, a rather depressing moment for me had suddenly become something different.  Not only was I struck by the guy’s passion for what he was doing, but I was also challenged thinking, “Gosh, I really hope that I could communicate to others the passion I have for my own job and have the same effect on them as he did on me in that single moment.” 

The chat with the termite technician reminds me of a fellow I got to know once in a shopping mall.  He had a counter from which he repaired shoes and watches and cut keys.  I don’t think I have ever come across a person happier doing what he was doing.  I used to wait there to be served, quietly marvelling at his attitude which just exuded a sense of contentment and engagement and happiness about what he was doing.   Experiencing him was so impressive I used to scrummage around the wardrobe to look for old shoes to be repaired for an excuse to use his business!

I am sure we all meet people who are like this.  We may not even know their name, just as I did not know the name of the termite technician or of the shoe repairer. Yet, in some quite remarkable way, these people light up our day.  They transfigure our experience.  They clear the fog of our anxiety; they dissipate the darkness of our mood, and the otherwise hidden luminosity of life becomes transparent.

Life is in fact blessed.  This is our Christian affirmation about the world, created by God and in which the life of God is to be found.  Yet, as we know only too well, our fears, our anxieties, our angers and resentments make the world opaque to the beauty that is present all around us.  But suddenly a chance encounter, a word, a gesture, a moment opens for us something remarkable.  A moment becomes radiant with beauty, with possibility and with invitation.  Something so ordinary becomes extraordinary; something so human hints at the divine, something so finite speaks to us of the infinite.  These are moments of transfiguration.  As one writer, puts it, “In the foundations of the heart, God is present in our simple presence to life.  (So what) are extraordinary are the ordinary concrete realities of daily life . . .  it is our desire to be extraordinary that, in fact, makes us less than ordinary whenever such desire moves us to pull away from, reject or even just ignore God manifesting himself to us in the next hot (summer) afternoon or the cold wind of a winter evening . . .”[1]  It’s in the ordinary moments of life that all God truly wants to offer us is most likely to be revealed.  It is the simple moment that is the most sacred moment.

I am reminded of the great story from the 3rd century desert tradition of Christian spirituality.

“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?” the disciple asked.

“Here,” the elder said.

“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.

“It is happening right now,” the elder said.

“Then why don’t I experience it”” the disciple asked.

And the elder answered, “Because you do not look.”

“But what should I look for?” the disciple wanted to know.

And the elder smiled and answered, “Nothing.  Just look.”

“But at what?” the disciple insisted.

“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the elder continued.

“Well then must I look in a special kind of way?” the disciple said.

“No,” the elder said.

“Why ever not?” the disciple persisted.

And the elder said quietly, “Because to look you must be here.  The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”[2]

When we are in the here and now, and when our hearts open to what is being offered us in the sheer simplicity of the moment, then we may we be surprised, just as the disciples are in today’s gospel.  They have become still long enough and then suddenly the living and radiant truth of Jesus becomes apparent to them.  In the sheer ordinariness of the moment, they see, and they understand.  May their experience of Jesus on the Mount of Tabor inspire us to be true to those moments of transfiguration given to each one of us.  And like the termite technician was to me, may we also be agents of transfiguration to others.

[1] James Finlay, Thomas Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, 113, 40.

[2] Taken from Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily.

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