Feast of the Transfiguration: Squiggles and Haloes

Fra Angelico's Transfiguration fresco in a monk's cell, San Marco, Florence
which I saw when I visited in June
August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, a commemoration of that mysterious scene in which Jesus and his inner circle climb a mountain and suddenly Jesus’ face shines and his clothes dazzle and a voice comes from out of the cloud surrounding them: “This is my beloved, listen to him!” 

I was ordained on this feast, so it is special to me. Over the years, I’ve encountered a many artistic renderings of Transfiguration, from Bellini to Fra Angelico to Titian and Raphael, to Byzantine icons, to Salvadore Dali. Jesus is of course is always at the center, serene and confident, with a commanding, upright presence.

What I confess to loving about these pictures, though, is the disciples. (Or in the case of Dali, the squiggles at the bottom that represent them.)  Nobody quite knows what to do. Almost always the disciples look dazed and confused. Fra Angelico gives them haloes, yet their hand positions make it look as if they are having to hold them in place at the sight of this wonder. Titian’s disciples are all flailing and fearful so ready for flight they are almost out of the painting already. Raphael includes not only the disciples near Jesus but also a large group gathered at the bottom of the hill, and yet few are looking at Jesus. Some are looking anywhere but at Jesus, with hands over their eyes even. And in nearly every representation of the Transfiguration there's always someone flailing an arm or two as he falls to the ground in fear/amazement/reverence. Such are the varieties of response to being in the presence of God.

Is the transfiguration a moment for 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? Yes, and yes, I think. Lord, give me the eyes to see.

This is a mysterious story, open to interpretation, but this I know: The central figure is always Jesus, and I am a squiggle boldly drawn, created to affirm his vocation and invited to listen to him call me into mine.

Dali's Transfiguration (cribbed from the Internet)