Today, the Feast of the Transfiguration, marks the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I am eternally grateful to God for calling me to this vocation and to those who walked with me through my discernment of that call. The following is a post I wrote a couple of years ago for this date, so I thought I'd reprise it here today.
Because of my relationship with the Feast of the Transfiguration, I have a couple of icons of this event and have always enjoyed the art I've seen depicting the Transfiguration, from the cool Transfiguration on the Golf Course by Bellini (OK, I made that title up but that's what this has always looked like to me - see for yourself here) to the etherial Transfiguration by Fra Angelico who puts a properly reverent Mary into the picture (see here) to Titian's version (here), whose Jesus looks a lot like Raphael's Jesus (here), kind of round and pinkish and wearing flowing robes. I love the icons of Theophanes and Rublev, as well as the abstract art of Salvadore Dali (here).
What I love about these pictures is not Jesus, though; it's the disciples. (Or in the case of Dali, the squiggles at the bottom.) Nobody quite knows what to do here. Almost always the disciples look dazed and confused; sometimes they are even head down/upside down/flat on the ground (which is the appropriate posture when one is in the presence of God). Some of them have haloes; in the Titian, the disciples are in so much chaos as not to be clearly seen - they are all flailing and fearful and ready for flight and so are almost out of the painting already and altogether. In the Raphael, the disciples are near Jesus and a great mass is at the bottom of the hill, and only a few people are looking at Jesus. Others are looking anywhere but at Jesus. And in nearly every artistic representation of the Transfiguration there's always at least someone who is flailing an arm or two as he falls to the ground in shock/fear/amazement/reverence.
Given my history with Transfiguration, you would think that I knew a lot about it, about how to read it, interpret it, what it means to the story of Jesus, what it means to me. But every year, twice a year, I feel as if I've just encountered the text for the first time. What's going on and why is this scene in the story of Jesus just in the middle of everything? What does it mean? What are we supposed to do with it and about it?
And where are we supposed to look? Is the transfiguration a moment of adoration, a time out in the otherwise busy life and ministry of the faithful person? Or is the transfiguration the backdrop for all of our work, there all the time but only noticed when the curtain is lifted by the unseen hand of God upon some rocky terrain onto which we have wandered or blundered or been led? As many times as I have read this text, been confronted by this text, (twice a year every year!) I am as bewildered as ever by it. (Here's what I wrote last August for the feast...)
Oh yes, I know the scholarly arguments and the contents of many commentaries. I know the differences in each gospel writer's telling of this tale. I know that if I am somewhere in this story, I'm certainly not the shining one. Mostly I feel like one of Dali's squiggles at the bottom of the page.
This is ultimately a mystery. The central figure is always Jesus, this shining glory, and I am a squiggle boldly drawn, just happy to be close by, to be near him as he hears, and I overhear, the affirmation from God, "This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him!"
I guess, really, that's all I need to know.