I’ve sat on my interpretation of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain for more than thirty years. I reflected on the transfiguration for a class on the New Testament I took long ago, while on leave after the birth of our second child. My thoughts, germinated from the class discussion and fertilized by a presentation on spirituality and further reading, crystallized in a paper, the essence of which I share with you today. I’m a little late—the transfiguration was last week’s Gospel, for the second Sunday of Lent—but I’ll forge ahead anyway.
A quick refresher might be in order. Jesus takes three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain (some say Mt. Thabor), and there, the story goes, he is transformed into “a dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleanch them.” (Living with Christ Sunday Missal 2014 – 2015: Novalis) and appears along with Elijah and Moses. The spirit of God reminds the disciples, “This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”
My ah-ha about the transfiguration occurred shortly after I became immersed in creation-centered spirituality. This view of our relationship with God is anchored in the Jewish scriptures and the writings of fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart, among others, whose work was translated and propagated by Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest, later ousted from his order by Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). I had the good fortune to meet Matthew Fox at a conference in the spring of 1983. What he had to say changed my life.
Creation-centered spirituality, according to Fox and Eckhart, has four stages. The first celebrates life and creation (Via Positiva), the abundance in the world God has created. The second stage requires letting go (Via Negativa), divesting oneself of all that gets in the way of our relationship with God; the more we let go, the more room we make in our hearts to be filled with the divine.
This is the key phase, in my view, because, whatever pain letting go might entail, the pay-off is huge. To the extent that we liberate ourselves from things or states of mind, and allow ourselves to fall into God, we experience a breakthrough to unimagined creativity (Via Creativa) and self-actualization.
Letting go and creativity partner up to continue their work in us in a reciprocal exchange that maximizes human potential. The result would be a transformation (Via Transformativa) as children of God consumed with compassion and social justice. Imagine the potential of that pathway for human beings. As inspiration, we have a model: Jesus.
It’s the path of letting go that I would like to focus on with respect to Jesus. When he accepts, at his Baptism, the mission he has discerned as his calling from God, Jesus flees into the desert and stays there for forty days, fasting and praying. Already then, there is letting go of the preoccupations of everyday life, and a surfeit of food. Later, at the end of the forty days, tempted by the devil, Jesus renounces the opportunity for a comfortable life that the devil promises him. He abstains from relief for his hunger; he refuses absolute power in the world; he is also strong in his trust in the power of God, and sees no need to prove that.
These categorical instances of letting go merge with the implicit references:
· Jesus leaves his family to preach the Good News.
· Jesus separates from many legalistic tenets of the Jewish faith that, he says, are being transformed in the Kingdom of God, where love of neighbor is paramount.
· Often in the midst of thousands of people, Jesus finds refuge in his inner circle of friends, as the community of Nazareth sees him as a radical presuptuous enough to proclaim himself the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. The people were “enraged,” the Gospels say, “filled with wrath,” or “furious,” depending on the version you read, after Jesus closed the book, and said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
· This separation becomes more pronounced as Jesus confronts some cultural norms :
o the place of women, in speaking to the women at the well, and acting on behalf of the woman caught in adultery, soon to be stoned;
o the class hierarchy, in associating with hated tax collectors and Samaritans, and healing the feared lepers.
· Jesus gives up the stability of a home.
· In the end, he lets go of his life for others.
Jesus is our model, then, of how to let go.
Now, what happens, I asked myself, when the four-fold path of spirituality and Jesus’ life are superimposed?. My theory is that, as Jesus practices this letting go, he experiences the Breakthrough into unbridled creativity (witness the miracles), and becomes transformed. Long before the revelation on the mountain, Jesus had already let go and been filled with God more than humanity had ever known. At the moment of the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have the blinders removed. They understand for the first time that Jesus has been transformed, that he is the son of God, and they realize that they need to listen to him.
Jesus even promised us that a transformation like his can be ours, as well. What do we have do to? Let go, to the same degree that he did. Give up everything. What will happen when we do? A breakthrough in creativity, and eventually, our transformation into children of God consumed with compassion. Jesus’ promise is clear: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” (John 14: 12 – 14)
Now, by extension, could letting go be the catalyst for the transfiguration of our entire society? A friend of mine thinks so. When we can bring our letting go the level of Jesus, he says, that’s when the lame will walk. Powerful story, the transfiguration.