Child psychologists tell us that we all come up with a story about ourselves to fit in and develop an ego. We access the story by stating “I am loved because ____.” The blank for you may have been you were pretty, or dependable, or smart, or obedient etc. Our neighbors and culture give us other stories, some not so good. These stories become a point of view that we use to interpret life.

The spiritual journey is in large part about unlearning these stories we tell about ourselves. Instead we are called to embark on a journey to maturity that the Apostle Paul calls learning to see “from God’s point of view” (Phil 3:15). In today’s Gospel reading we look in on a meeting on a mountain where God is in charge of the agenda, so we see, for a change, what God sees. This evening we are asked to see if the stories we tell ourselves each day about ourselves, about our world, would be altered if we considered God’s point of view.

A Radiance From Within

We refer to today’s text as the Transfiguration, and we see some familiar themes appear when God gets to run the meeting. We see our story is deeply connected to other stories, as Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah. We see a brilliant radiance in what normally appears as flesh and blood. Finally, we hear and affirmation of love and dignity: “this is my beloved, listen to Him!” So we have connections, radiance and loving affirmation – we should let God lead more meetings!

You would think we would like this sort of thing, but like the disciples we are more often afraid to see from God’s point of view. It hurts to give up the stories we have depended on. Part of us is uncomfortable with this radiance. Religion, unfortunately, is often not much help. Religion is more comfortable with Moses than Jesus. Moses was also once on a mountain, and his face was radiant as he came down the mountain with the tablets of the Law. However, Moses could only understand he reflected the light from outside of himself. Being mere reflectors of light is safer for us and it allows us to believe some get it and some don’t. Jesus, on the other hand, embodied the light, it came from within.

Thankfully God’s point of view won’t go away. The mystics have through the centuries kept pointing to the radiance in each of us. In the 12th century Hildegard wrote “all living things are sparks from the radiance of God’s brilliance.” Teresa of Avila tracked the source of radiance to our “Interior Castle.” One of the defining moments in Thomas Merton’s life occurred when he was doing errands in downtown Louisville and was gifted to see those around him from God’s point of view. He wrote later that he saw ordinary people walking around “shining like the sun.”

Living With God’s Point of View

We do not need to take the gospel’s or the mystics’ word for it. We know from our experience the radiance within is true. In addition to our own mystical moments, Fredrick Beuchner says if we pay attention we can see this in radiance even in little ways:

“Every once and so often, something so touching
so incandescent, so alive, transfigures the human
face that is almost beyond bearing.”

I remember at my daughter Teresa’s second birthday party a dozen or so people gathered and at the appropriate time we sang Happy Birthday to her. She was first not sure what was happening, but halfway through the song it hit her that we were singing to her! We were loving her! The joy of this realization started at her toes and reached the top of her head with her face so radiant that it was beyond bearing for my crying eyes. Several times I have seen mothers looking at their infants with radiant love such that I had to look away. I know you have your own stories of seeing radiance. Love/God is Light. Love is radiant.

If I told you I believed in God’s point of view most of the time, I would be lying. The contrary voices in my head are strong. The images of God as “out there” are so prevalent that it is hard to tune them out.
The stakes are huge. The inner radiance is the basis for “all are welcome” as we proclaim the spark of God is in everyone regardless of race, gender, orientation etc. It is the source of our cry for justice as the recognition of the spark of divinity exposes all oppression, all racism, all violent inequality. Our faith asks us to see the radiance in the Shia and the Sunni, in the atheist and the fundamentalist, in the Harvard graduate and those with intellectual disabilities, in the hooded teenager and the police officer.

Giving up something, or doing something practical for Lent often seemed contrived to me. This year, however, I do have an idea. I want to see radiance more often than I do. My idea is to turn a famous quote from Merton into a prayer I will say at least once a day through Lent to, in some small way, help me be more aware of radiance. Join me if you would like. It goes like this:

“At the center of our being is a point of pure light,
a point or spark which belongs entirely to God.
It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible
light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it,
we would see those billion points of light coming
together in the face and blaze of a sun that would
make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Second Sunday of Lent
Saturday Evening, February 28, 2015
Focus Text – Mark 9:2-10 (the Transfiguration)

Photo by Francesco Sisti on flickr.com

Notes: For more on the references to the mystics see http://www.adishaki/christianity. Merton’s quote at the end comes from his book “Seeds.”