A couple of years ago I was sitting in a worship service in Haiti. It was a two hour service (!). I thought about our more traditional service back home and imagined it being two hours. Then I came back to reality!
I looked around at the people near me. It was crowded. I reflected on the difficulties of their lives. Yes, the service was long, but maybe, like the disciples on the mountain of transfiguration, they may have wanted to stay here, maybe this was the mountaintop in the midst of a week that was mostly lived in the valley of suffering. The next day, in the medical clinic, there was the suffering: a grandfather, with a very young granddaughter, the exhaustion and yet the love present in his face, and the family history, both parents having died of HIV/Aids.
And I thought, this is why we hike down from the mountain. To say it plainly, Jesus is God with us, not a God of conventional beauty or royalty, but a God who stoops to our weakness. Jesus is present not only as he is transfigured but as he suffers, not only in his glory but also in his humility and in his humanity; this is my body, broken for you, he says, this is my blood, poured out for you. And then, mysteriously, miraculously, he says something more. You are my very body, he says to us, your life is to be sacrificed for others. He dwells not in permanent structures high upon mountain peaks. He lives wherever love and grace are given and received.
This is the gospel, our gift, our burden, but also our joy. To know that we are filled with light; to know that the light is there, in every person, waiting to be released.
One of my spiritual heroes was Thomas Merton, a monk and writer who lived in the 20th century, whose vow of stability led him to a life in rural Kentucky. As a young adult he had a deep pessimism about human nature, a profound criticism of other people. For this reason he had separated himself from the world by entering a monastery. But over time that began to change. Later in his life he traveled to the downtown area of Louisville, Kentucky. He sat down to observe the comings and goings of people, and later he wrote in his journal:
"At the corner of fourth and Walnut...I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers...It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, [to have] the immense joy of being a person, a member of the human race in which God himself became incarnate. And if only everyone could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun."
When we have stood in the light, we have a deep desire to see the light in other people.
And so, a few simple instructions: turn aside, slow down, venture off the beaten path, and pay attention to the light---it is there. And then, in some way that is possible for you, live in the light, shed some light on someone else's path, punctuate the darkness with some gesture of love or grace.
The Jesus who was transfigured wants to transfigure us, the one who said I am the light of the world says, to each of us, you are the light of the world.
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