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. -Mark 9:2-9
A high mountain. The cloud of Presence. The voice of the Most High. The disciples fall into ecstasy. They see time disassemble. They see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah - outside of time - talking about something that will happen in time, that is, Jesus' “exodus”.
And the light! Orthodox Christians call it “Tabor Light.” This is the kind of light that transfigured Moses so that he had to wear a veil. It is this kind of light which blinded Paul on his way to Damascus. It is the light at the boundary of the soul, alluring us in meditation to continue deepening, and the remembrance of it helps us remain faithful when prayer is dark.
This week's retreat begins with an imagined meditation upon the transfiguration from the point of view of a disciple. I suggest you might want to play around here, imagining yourself present, or even reflecting upon a time of light and incomprehension of the "unseeable" (Meditation One). Then, for the "insight/ turn-around part of your retreat, Augustine contemplates through the eye of his soul the unseeable light, which may be discernable in truth and in love (Meditation Two). But you must come down from the mountain and up from the soul's chambers to face the next task at hand. Discovering and discerning what in our time we call "right sized" relationship to the world: finding your balance between grandiosity or unworthiness, between inflated ego and obsequious worminess. Loving in the world in all its lovelessness and difficulty, amazement and grandeur and beauty. Turning your face toward Jerusalem and giving yourself completely in love (Meditation Three).
Coming down from the mountain, and up from my soul's chambers, I am yours, 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)
Today on Tabor in the manifestation of your light, O Lord, your light unaltered from the light of the unbegotten Father, we have seen the Father as light, and the Spirit as light, guiding with light the whole creation
- from the Orthodox Liturgy, August 6, Feast of the Transfiguration
Miscellany "all light, all face, all eye"
When the soul is counted worthy to enjoy communion with the Spirit of the light of God, and when God shines upon the soul with the beauty of his ineffable glory, preparing her as a throne and dwelling for himself, she becomes all light, all face, all eye. Then there is no part of her that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. There is no part of her that is in darkness, but she is transfigured wholly and in every part with light and spirit.
Just as the sun is the same throughout, having neither back nor anything irregular, but is wholly glorified with light and is all light, being transformed in every part; or as fire, with its burning sheath of flame, is constant throughout, having neither a beginning nor an end, being neither larger nor smaller in any part, so also when the soul is perfectly illumined with the ineffable beauty and glory of the light of Christ’s 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.
Pseudo-Macarius (4th Century), Spiritual Homilies, Alphabetical Collection “H,”1,2;Coptic Apophthegms, Paris, 1894 in Celebrating the Saints, Devotional Readings for Saint’s Days Morehouse Publishing
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
The Transfiguration, Duccio, 1308-11
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) Coming Down Off The Mountain "Right Sized"
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me?
-Blaise Pascal (1623-62) Pensees, 205
Bitter and dark and desolate Are Love's ways in the beginning of love; Before anyone is perfect in Love's service, We often become desperate: Yet where we imagine losing, it is all gain. How can one experience this? By sparing neither much nor little, By giving oneself totally in love.
-Hadewijch 13th century
The Last Word
Life Himself came down to be slain; Bread came down to suffer hunger; the Way came down to endure weariness on His journey; the Fountain came down to experience thirst. Do you, then, refuse to work and to suffer?
I love Epiphany, the season of befriending the Light. I love the liminal days between the Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday. I can linger on the mountain as the light fades. Soon, too soon, I have to confront those grayish shapeless lumps in my character that obscure the Light from radiating throughout my soul. In Lent I must tend to the lumps.
An Orthodox teaching posits that hell consists of the the same unmitigated Light of God as heaven. It's all one light. However, what makes hell a hellish condition is the slow burning of all that ego residue, unrepented sins, unformed lumps of deficient character, unresolved conflicts clung to in life. So the lumps of stuff burn in the Uncreated Light of Presence.
Wednesday I've got to get to work on my heavy gray lumpish sins and wickedness, things done and left undone, the devices and desires of my own heart.* But lingering in this Tabor light, just for these few days, the last of Epiphany, reminds me why I need and want to work so hard in my Lenten repenting.
Lingering in light, Suzanne
*phrases from the wonderful penitential resources in The Book of Common Prayer