Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Matthew 17:1-9
About This Week's Meditation Prompts
What did the disciples see on that mountain? Light. Uncreated Light, or, what the Orthodox call "Tabor Light." The light shone through Jesus while the Cloud of Presence hovered over the mountain, and time disassembled, revealing Moses and Elijah outside time. Simple men and women of prayer discover this light at the boundary of the soul. Paul was struck blind by it on the road to Damascus. An interesting theory in Eastern Orthodoxy is that the fire of hell is simply uncreated light but the unreconciled soul cannot appropriate this light and is burned by it.
The meditation prompts begin from the point of view of the disciples: "was it a vision?" (meditation one). Next, Augustine tries to explain this light in his own soul (meditation two). And Pseudo-Dionysius wraps it up and sends us forth: "But there is something more...in its power to unify, it stirs us by lifting us up" returning and gathering us up into the oneness of the Holy One (meditation three).
Light and love, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) see the unseeable
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness, But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance, And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined As in a morning field. Was it a vision? Or did we see that day the unseeable One glory of the everlasting world Perpetually at work, though never seen Since Eden locked the gate that's everywhere And nowhere?
-Edwin Muir 1887-1957 The Transfiguration (excerpt)
Leave aside this everywhere and this everything, in exchange for this nowhere and this nothing. Never mind at all if your senses have no understanding of this nothing; it is for this reason that I love it so much the better. It is so worthy a thing in itself that they can have no understanding of it. This nothing can be better felt than seen; it is most obscure and dark to those who have been looking at it only for a very short while. Yet to speak more truly, a soul is more blinded in experiencing it because of the abundance of spiritual light than for any darkness or lack of bodily light. Who is he that calls it nothing? It is surely our outward man, not our inward. Our inward man calls it All, for because of it he is well taught to have understanding of all things bodily or spiritual, without any specific knowledge of any one thing in itself.
-author of The Cloud of Unknowing
...so also when the soul is perfectly illumined with the ineffable beauty and glory of the light of Christís countenance, and granted perfect communion with the Holy Spirit and counted worthy to become the dwelling-place and throne of God, then the soul becomes all eye, all light, all face, all glory, all spirit.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes, Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days Almighty, victorious thy great Name we praise.
Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light, Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight; All laud we would render: O help us to see 'Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.
-W. Chalmers Smith 1824-1908 excerpt - Immortal, invisible, God only wise
Resources for Last Epiphany (Transfiguration) from Years B and C
Right: details, The Transfiguration, Unknown Icon Master, 16th Century
detail, from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Icon
detail, Boticelli, The Trials and Calling of Moses, 1481-2
Transfiguration, Unknown Icon Master, 16th Century, Hermitage Museum
Meditation Two (insight) the light that never changes
I entered into the secret closet of my soul, led by Thee; and this I could do because Thou wast my helper. I entered, and behold with the mysterious eye of my soul the Light that never changes, above the eye of my soul, above my intelligence. It was not the common light which all flesh can see, nor was it greater yet of the same kind, as if the light of day were to grow brighter and brighter and flood all space. It was not like this, but different: altogether different from all such things. Nor was it above my intelligence in the same way as oil is above water, or heaven above earth; but it was higher because it made me, and I was lower because made by it. He who knoweth the truth knoweth that Light: and who knoweth it, knoweth eternity. Love knoweth it.
Augustine 354-430 Confessions, book 7 chapter 10
Meditation Three (integration) gathers us in
"Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights." But there is something more. Inspired by the Father, each procession of the Light spreads itself generously toward us, and, in its power to unify, it stirs us by lifting us up. It returns us back to the oneness and deifying simplicity of the Father who gathers us in. For, as the sacred Word says, "from him and to him are all things." Let us, then, call upon Jesus, the Light of the Father, the "true light enlightening every man coming into the world," "through whom we have obtained access" to the Father, the light which is the source of all light.
-Pseudo-Dionysius 5th or 6th century The Celestial Hierarchy
The Last Word
Then perhaps it will be his will to send out a ray of spiritual light, piercing this cloud of unknowing between you and him, and he will show you some of his secrets, of which man may not or cannot speak. Then you shall feel your affection all aflame with the fire of his love, far more than I know how to tell you or may or wish to at the time.
Author of The Cloud of Unknowing 14th century
Jesus, transfigured in Uncreated Light, converses with Moses and Elijah outside of time. Peter, James, and John fall into a sleepy ecstasy. In iconography the disciples topple down the mountain in awe and fear.
A detail that always touches my heart is the sandal falling off the foot of the disciple on the right. Does it mean the disciple finds himself on holy ground unprepared? Or does the shock of theophany knock him literally out of his shoe?
Jesus' own sandal falls off his foot, dangling, as he runs into his mothers arms in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, (or, in the Eastern Orthodox rendering, Theotokos of the Passion). In this icon (13th, 14th, or 15th century) Jesus clings to his mother for comfort as he sees a vision of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel carrying the instruments of the Passion: spear, nails, cross, and sponge.
When Moses approached the Burning Bush, he was instructed to remove his shoes because he was on Holy Ground. Liminal spaces, “thin places,” sanctuaries set apart for solemn worship teach us to practice for the eventual realization that all places are holy.
For the disciples, the Pentecost event opened the world to them as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Their shoes remained solidly on their feet, as they set out to proclaim the Good News “unto the ends of the earth.”
Moses removing his shoes, Netherlandish Miniaturist, Tres Belles Heures de Notre Dame de Jean Duc de Berry, c. 1400