Feast of the Transfiguration
EXODUS 34:29-35; PSALM 99; 2 PETER 1:13-21; LUKE 9:28-36
THE REV. CARISSA BALDWIN-MCGINNIS
There are a number of things I love about living in Houston. Chief among those are its people. There are a number of things I lament about being a Houstonian. Among those things is that I never see the sunset. I grew up in the hills west of Austin, Texas and literally every night as a teen experienced the radiance and beauty of a colorful and expansive sunset. Always this triggered in me a sense of divine wonder and gratitude to the God who had colored all over my sky. Those visions are embedded in the memory of my spirituality.
Years later in an attempt to understand the worldview of a partner, who was atheist, I returned to the phenomenon of sunsets. “So, when you see a beautiful sunset,” I began, “what precise thoughts are you having about its beauty and its origins?” He replied, “I suppose I am proud of myself for being in a place where I can see it.” This was a fine response but a sign to me that we might have irreconcilable differences.
As a subscriber to the glory of God, I love apparitions of that glory. Sunsets, as one example, are easy to take in. But sometimes that glory of God is not so easy to receive. Sometimes we are not equipped to handle the power or gifts of God’s radiance.
Andrew Harvey wrote about this in Buddhist terms in “The Way of the Passion.”
One day, one of his disciples came to Buddha and said, “You know nirvana, you live in nirvana. Why don’t you give us nirvana?
The Buddha said, “I will give everybody nirvana, but first go around and ask everyone in the village what they most want. Come back and tell me what it is that they most want. Then I will give everybody nirvana.”
This pleased the disciple, so he went around asking everybody what they most wanted. Naturally one said a Porsche, another said a girlfriend, another wanted a boyfriend, another said a raise of $3,000 more a year. No one wanted nirvana.
Nirvana in Buddhism is the highest state of consciousness. It is a state in which there is no suffering or pleasure. There is no sense of one’s birth or death. Nirvana represents the final goal of Buddhism.
In today’s Gospel Jesus seems to have invited Peter, John and James to witness a Jewish version of nirvana. What was their response? A rush to build huts. Jesus’ disappointment or even disgust is not scripted. But we could deduce that as a possible response from the statement that Peter did not know what he was proposing. It is as if the proper response to divine light is not likely to be bricks and mortar - not gates, not walls, not even temples. The proper response to divine light would seem to have been divine light.
St. Basil is quoted as having said, “Man is a creature who has received the order to become God.” And when the moment of invitation comes, we are often like those invited to the master’s banquet. We have many excuses for why we cannot come.
Our resistance may have to do with the spiritual sloughing that is required of us if we were to pursue our highest consciousness. Richard Rohr describes the process well. “The path … involves letting go of our self-image, our titles, our status symbols—our false self. It will die anyway.”
I can find many excuses for pursuing the heights of my spirituality. I can even find false substitutes. For example, in my bathroom cabinet are at least three kinds of facial masks. These are beauty products that one applies, leaves on for half-an-hour, and then removes. Every product promises to leave the skin radiant. Even I have a constant curiosity about how to make my plain ol’ face exceptional. While my face is unlikely to change much, my countenance could.
Jalaluddin Rmi in the poem “Source and Goal” has so much to offer those who glimpse God’s glory in sunsets, in apparitions, in songs or in other people; we who are sad when God becomes elusive and we who prefer to deny our own opportunity to shine.
Every wonderful sight will vanish, every sweet word will fade,
But do not be disheartened,
The source they come from is eternal, growing,
Branching out, giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep?
The source is within you.