6 Aug 2015
Feast of the Transfiguration
Sometimes it’s hard to believe there’s anything beyond the everyday. And, I would venture to say, many people couldn’t care less whether or not there is. We are a culture of facts and figures. We trust what we can see and what we understand. And we’re not terribly fond of the idea of story and myth.
Just look at the way the arts have fallen by the wayside in the education of children. We go on the internet or turn on the tv and hear political sound bites, or we read little snippets of somebody else’s opinion. We’re not a culture that “goes deep.” Nor do we “reach up.” We’re firmly ground in the everyday.
Because of that, I bet there are some people who would call St. Peter a liar. He says, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But our culture says, “Sure you did. Christianity is a myth; it’s a story and nothing more.” In college, I remember a professor saying to a class I was in: “Yea, and about Christianity—don’t get suckered by it.”
Of course, we who come here to the altar of God aren’t on that page. But how can we not be affected by the culture around us which sees Christianity as . . . a fiction, as a story which is totally irrelevant to everyday life? How can that not affect us?
We hear of the Transfiguration of Christ. We hear the prophet Daniel speak of the “Ancient One,” whose “throne was flames of fire.” He describes the vision of “one like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.” And what do we think of that?
The psalm proclaims, “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth! . . . The mountains melt like wax before the Lord . . . the Lord, exalted far above all gods.” And then there’s that voice—that voice from the overshadowing cloud of God’s “majestic glory:” “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Is it true? And, even if it is, many around us would ask: “So what?”
In ancient times, the mountain was a place where this world mingled with things beyond this world. The mountain was a place of visions, a place of the revelation of truth (not facts), a place akin to, say, a bubbler (or water fountain) where you’d go to quench your thirst and be rejuvenated to go on living with hope and expectation and wonder. Sadly, though, we don’t have any mountains around here—figuratively speaking.
We live on a big, flat, open plain where there’s this world and not much else. In the realm of politics, people are too busy trying to outdo the next person to care if there’s anything beyond that arena. In the world of business, the thrill of the bottom line cancels out the thrill of anything else. Even in the Church, we can be rather myopic in our daily lives, in our worship, in what we see as important to the life of the parish and the surrounding community.
We have here, today, the Transfiguration. And we’re left with the question: “What am I supposed to do with that?” For some, it’s food for thought or contemplation. Some of us (or, at least, some people around us) might say: “I’m too busy living life to have the majesty of God break into it. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time for a story—I’m trying to live real life here and now.”
For many people, Christianity is just that—a story, a myth. And they go about their daily lives: honking their horns on the road, being impatient at the checkout line over at JCPenney, being busy, busy, busy doing this and doing that. And we see that and wonder: Are they right?
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” called Christianity a myth. But, he said, he is a myth like none other, because Christianity is a “true myth.” It is a “true myth.” Even if some of the “facts” of the Christian story are incorrect, the “truths” that story contains are what’s important.
Tolkien was a staunch Roman Catholic and he weaved the truths of the Catholic faith into his stories. There are no such creatures as hobbits, or elves or dwarves. Middle Earth doesn’t exist, except in the imagination. But the truths those characters and stories convey are very real.
When we look at the Transfiguration, or Daniel’s prophecies, or when we hear all this talk of the majesty and the glory of God, a God who speaks out of a cloud upon a mountaintop, a God who takes on human flesh and becomes an infant in a manger . . . when we encounter this, we are encountering truth. And truth is far more valuable to us than facts.
We Catholics value truth. We value the story of our faith—the fantastical as well as the more realistic. We value “true myth,” and imagination and all those things that elevate our souls and minds and bodies, and which bring another realm and depth of reality into our everyday lives. We are a people who live on the plains as well as on the mountaintop. . . . Or, at least, that’s who we say we are.
With the Transfiguration, we’re not faced with the question: “Did it happen?” Instead, we’re asked: “Do I really believe there is more to this world, and that there is more beyond this world?” Not necessarily the “beyond” of death, but the “more” which is the majesty of God and the promise and vision of a new heaven and a new earth which exist right now, this very moment.
The Transfiguration opens us up again to the world of the “true myth,” to a greater world that includes and transforms this world. The Transfiguration is an invitation from God to believe again, to believe in: grandeur, beauty, goodness and truth—to believe in something greater, like children who live life with eyes wide open.
There’s more to life than life on the flat, open plains of the mundane. There are mountains here; and lush, green valleys teeming with life; there’s another whole world of places and people, creatures and God mixed in right here with this world . . . if we open our eyes of faith to see it.
In our culture, seeing is believing. But, for us lucky ones, to believe is to see. God extends the invitation to believe in that greater world—to have faith in the “true myth” he gives us through Jesus Christ. All that’s left is for us to believe; to believe and to see.