Transfiguration

McCray_Transfiguration-1

Jesus wanted to pray.  This wasn’t unusual. He was always praying. He would often leave us mid evening and set off by himself, and we’d see him again sometime the next morning. This time he wanted company.  It had been a long, busy day and to be honest, I could have done with my bed, but there was something about the way he asked that made it hard to refuse. There were four of us. Peter and John, Jesus, and myself.

I wasn’t sure where we were going. Only that it was up, and up, and more up. There was very little light, and it took all my concentration to keep following. I could just about see where I was putting my next step.  There was no conversation. We didn’t have the breath for that. It seemed to go on forever. If I was tired before I started, I was exhausted now. This praying stuff was hard work, and no mistake. Finally he stopped. I guess we must have been somewhere near the top, but I couldn’t really see.  It had been warm enough as we were making the effort of climbing, but after a few minutes of pause, I could feel the chill air and drew my cloak around me. Peter, John and I had flopped down to the ground very soon after stopping. I guess we were all feeling pretty much the same.

We have never discussed that night. In fact this is the first time I have told this story. The details are burned into my memory, together with a host of swirling emotions. I have gone over them many times in my mind, but it is hard to find the words to describe quite what happened.

Jesus remained standing, a little way from us. He was praying silently. I am afraid I was shaking my head to stay awake. Too tired to pray.  Too tired to think. My body and my brain were trying to shut down and it was all I could do to fight it.  He had wanted us with him for some reason, and I was trying to do just that, but losing.  I tried to keep my eyes focused on him, and listening for anything he might say.

I thought I must have started dreaming.  Either that or the thin mountain air was playing tricks with my brain.  Jesus’ face began to radiate with light as did his clothes. It was like he lit up from within. Brighter and brighter, until I was completely dazzled. Frightening didn’t begin to cover it. It is strange how overwhelming light can feel.  I don’t have a word that describes it adequately.  I thought I knew this man I had worked alongside, but this being, radiant with glory beyond imagining, splintered all my preconceptions.

All at once there were three of them. Three shining figures talking together. It was Moses and Elijah. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I have never been able to explain that to myself – but I knew without a shadow of doubt, that is who they were, the instant I saw them. Moses was speaking to him of the ‘Exodus’ Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. A deliverance that would eclipse the rescue Moses led, by a million miles. (At the time, I barely understood what they were talking about. I heard the words, but I couldn’t take them in. I see so clearly now they were encouraging him for his journey to the cross as ‘the Lamb of God’.)  Their conversation came to a close, and Moses and Elijah appeared to be turning to leave him.

Peter’s voice made me jump. Speaking too fast and too loudly, he gabled something about making shelters for each of them. I think he wanted this extraordinary moment to last longer- I am not even sure if he knew what he was saying. The words had barely left his lips when we were all enveloped in a cloud. Weather can change very quickly in the mountains, but this was like no cloud I had ever seen. I find it hard to explain it to you. It was terrifying. Like the cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the desert- we were engulfed in God. The sense of being in the Presence of the Almighty God was electrifying. I could barely breathe. I have never felt such an intense awareness of holiness. It made me want to lie flat on my face, but I couldn’t move.  To be honest, I didn’t know if I was still alive.

Then God spoke. Spoke to me- to us.  It sounded like thunder and yet felt like a whisper. I know that doesn’t make sense, but you’ll have to believe me. “THIS IS MY SON” the words were charged with such love and power “ MY CHOSEN”

I trembled from head to foot. “LISTEN TO HIM!”  As the sound died away, the cloud melted and Jesus was simply standing there. Alone. The same man that had climbed the mountain with us, looking very human and vulnerable, and yet everything had changed.

We didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. Even Peter, for once, was completely silent. Awestruck. I was still trembling. The command to listen was still echoing in my ears and I was listening with every fibre of my being.  Jesus didn’t say a word, but his face and his eyes spoke volumes. The light no longer blazed from his face, but my heart was aflame.

Some months later I heard him describe himself to those listening to him as “the Light of the world” and that “those who followed him would never walk in darkness” and I was instantly taken back to that mountain. How it felt as I walked back down. As if I was carrying the Light I had seen.  I understood him even less than before, and yet I would follow him wherever he led, even if I didn’t know where he was going.  I had to follow him even into the darkness, as how else would I see? How else would I hear?

And to think I almost fell asleep.

Treading into the unknown


I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

These opening lines of a poem by Minnie Louise Haskings, were used in King George VI’s Christmas Radio broadcast at the start of World War II, in 1939 . He used them to speak to a nation and Commonwealth that was facing very uncertain times, in the upheaval of war. His life has been immortalised this year in the very moving film  ‘The King’s Speech’, showing how he faced down his own inner demons and difficulties.

We are again in uncertain times, but the message of this poem seems relevant to me for any year. None of us know what it may contain, nationally, internationally or personally.    I am looking ahead into a year of big changes. A house move, ordination and a new job to adjust to. Somewhere before all that lot, there is a degree to finish.  Fortunately I am one of those oddities who enjoys change and challenge, and am looking forwards to these new directions, but even so, the scale and pace of all this change feels quite daunting at times. What has been on the horizon for a long time, is almost here.

I know that I am not up to what God is asking of me, and never have been, but fortunately He knows that too. I am in good company. Almost everyone God asked to do something for Him in the Bible felt the same way. Moses certainly did.  On one occasion he said to God,  ” You have been telling me  “Lead these people” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me”  and God replies:

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest”   Exodus 33:14 

That is all I ask, and all I need as I set out on this newest adventure with God. I don’t know what else the year may contain, or what may be demanded of me, but I do know that He has promised to be with me every step of it. My prayer like Moses, is for a continual awareness of His Presence, and to be able to rest in His enabling.                       My prayer for me, and my prayer for you.

Cathedrals

Early morning in Peterborough Cathedral

The early morning sun streaming through the East windows; bells tolling for worship, that fall quiet to the deep hush of this vast house of prayer. Its soaring dimensions and simple beauty simultaneously uplift and enfold the soul. These ancient stones are steeped in centuries of faithful orisons offered God-ward day and night, in word and song. We gather for prayer, humbly aware of our place in a long line of worshippers that stretches far back into the distant past.

I mused a couple of months back whilst on holiday in Chamonoix ( see Looking Up) about my response to mountains, and how they make my spirit soar. Working in the Cathedral, and being surrounded by such beauty everyday, is not unlike living with mountains, in an otherwise very flat landscape. There are many parallels. The constant changing light, that gives it so many moods and faces. The outsize dimensions and immense scale, to name just a few. This cathedral, like most, may have been built with very mixed motives, including those of power and authority, but it was primarily built to sing God’s glory.  It lifts my heart to God, and His presence is very tangible here.  Its effect on all who enter its ancient wooden doors is visible. Most simply stop and look, taking in the enormity of space. It catches me every time I walk through the building, or from one part to another- thrilling to a shaft of sunlight lighting a particular space, or the blaze of candles on the priket stand. It manages to combine both the majesty and intimacy of God in a way that is hard to explain. How such a voluminous building is able to convey intimacy, has to be experienced to be fully understood. A bit like God, I guess.


“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Even the sparrow finds a home,and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. ”  Psalm 122

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24

All in a name


It was dark in the garden. It was dark in her heart. She had known plenty darkness before. The cold, eclipse of rejection. The pitch black of shame. The midnight of self hatred. But none like this. This was worse than all of those combined. Hope had been hammered out of her with the nails that they had roughly banged into his already broken, feet and hands. Even now, she didn’t know how she had stood there, and watched them do that to Him, except that she couldn’t tear herself away. The excruciating anguish of seeing his agony, and being helpless to do anything to help him, had torn her apart. That was Friday. A blur of pain and fire. Saturday she had been mute with grief, unable to think, or take anything else in. This morning she had forced her exhausted body to move. There was one more thing she could do for him.

This time, no one would see her, and criticize. No mocking words or sneers. She would pour her love  out for him for the last time. She would tenderly anoint his beloved, broken body with precious perfumed oils. This time, however, he would not smile at her. His scarred face would be still. His extraordinary eyes would be dull and closed forever.

She didn’t know how she was going to get past the guards, hadn’t a clue how she would move the stone with which they they had sealed his tomb. Nothing would stop her though. If it was the last thing she did, she would say her goodbye, and prepare his body properly for burial. That was the least she could do. What more had she got to lose?

Finding her way to the place she had seen his body hastily dumped, before the onset of the Sabbath, she was stopped in her tracks. They had taken even this last goodbye. Guards gone, the tomb gaping in yawning emptiness. They couldn’t even leave his body to rest in peace. Anger and confusion spurred her feet as she ran back to tell Peter and John of this final desecration. They ran too, looked and left. Unable to deal with themselves, unable to deal with her. She was left, and like at the foot of his cross, she couldn’t tear herself away, even though there was nothing to stay for. Nothing to live for. The tears flowed, as she wept for all that might have been. She had never known love and acceptance as this Man had showed her. Never experienced forgiveness and heartbreaking mercy that lifted her out of the dust, and breathed new life into her beaten down soul. She had watched him do it for so many others too, but now all that was gone.

The tomb was empty. The beloved body stolen, who knows where. She shuddered to think what they might have done with him. As if they hadn’t done enough. She looked again into the hollowed out space in the rock, wondering if she might at least gather his grave clothes. There were two men sitting in there, where his head and feet would have been. She couldn’t take in who they might be or why they were there. They asked her a stupid question.

Why are you crying?

WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO AT A GRAVE?!” she wanted to shout at them- “ isn’t it obvious?!”  “They have taken him away, and I have lost- everything”  She turned away – unable and unwilling to engage. Lost in her loss.

The sun was just rising, lifting over the city and bathing her in light. The light hurt almost more than the darkness. Another day. Another day he would never see. She folded in on herself.

There was a sound close by. A footstep. Suddenly concious of another person , who as she looked up, was standing in the brightness of the dawn. She could only see his outline, framed with light, and blurry with her tears.

Why are you weeping?”  the same question.

Gently and compassionately asked with a voice that sounded as if it cared about the answer.

Who are you looking for?” 

He could only be the gardener, but the question  reached right into her being. Right into the depths of her pain. Somewhere deep inside, in the darkness, there was the faintest glimmer of light.

If you know where he is, if you have moved him- tell me”  she pleaded. There was just a whisper of a chance she would find his body, after all.

He didn’t answer and she still couldn’t see his face, or read his expression. Silence. A pause in which the world turned, and her heart lifted towards hope, against herself.

Mary” 

No one else said it like that. No one else had ever put such unconditional love into the simple saying of her name. That beloved voice called her a second time out of a nightmare     of darkness, bringing her back to life.  It couldn’t possibly be – and yet it was. She had been looking for a corpse, and she had found a living Lord, who knew her, and called her by name.

Rabbouni!”   was all she had breath to say. She fell at his feet. The feet she had anointed with her tears; the feet she had seen hammered to the rough wood of the cross. Reaching out to hold them – she wanted to stay in this moment forever. Be sure it was real. That he was real. That her teetering mind hadn’t tipped finally, over the edge.

Gentle hands lifted her up. His smile was as wide as the sea, and the eyes she thought had closed for ever, twinkled with life and laughter. A name, a smile. A smile that reached out and found all the shattered pieces of her heart, and drew them together again, into a new whole.

Now go– and tell my brothers who you have seen”  he asked of her. Be the one to tell them I am alive. Be the Hope Bearer. Turn their lives upside down, as yours has been.

She didn’t hesitate. Carrying the good news- she ran with joy, in the glory of the rising sun, that was lighting up the world.

Bringing out the God colours

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5  14-16  The Message

I had to preach on these verses this week to a jury of my peers. A very lovely jury, I have to say, but none the less nerve racking! Scary stuff! I won’t give you what I gave them, but these were the words that grabbed me.  Bringing out the God colours in the world .

That is what God calls me to do. Allow  His sunshine to  flood my being, and try not to get in the way of letting it flow out of me too. Sunshine that lights up the grey and lifeless places, and the dark and lonely places.  In me and in the world around me. In those He brings me alongside, and mingles my life with.   Bringing out the God colours

Be a foil to reflect the Light,  and bring others out in their best colours – the colours that God the Master Artist  painted them in with Love.  I dabble in water colour and scribble in pastels ( when I get time that is) and playing with light and shade and tone is a real joy.

The God I know and love also likes to play. Loves to create- and recreate. Oft times when you are painting, something goes wrong.  It doesn’t turn out the way you planned.  A great artist   (of which I am not!)  can take the mistakes and work them into the picture – an integral part of the whole.  He doesn’t lose patience and get frustrated. He adds more light and sometimes more contrast, and brings up the colours and forms in a whole new perspective.

I am not a Master Artist, but I can be a paintbrush in His hands. I have no radiance in me that is self generated, but I can borrow His sparkle to light up other’s lives.

I don’t know about you, but I like that idea.

light in the darkness

It is Holocaust Memorial Day today, and I have not long returned from a service of Remembrance of Untold Stories.  There are barely any words that can hold how I respond to such evil and such pain. Only tears and prayer. Tears for God’s pain – who didn’t see only two dimensional pictures, but who held each life in love.  The only words are the closing prayer of the service, expressing forgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way out of this incomprehensible darkness. The candle of light, the darkness cannot overcome.

This prayer was found scrawled on a piece of wrapping paper in the Ravensbruck Concentration camp, near the dead body of a child.

Lord,

Remember not only the men and women of good will

but all those of ill will.

Do not only remember all the sufferings they have subjected us to.

Remember the fruits we brought forth thanks to this suffering-

– our comradeship

-our loyalty

-our humility

our courage and generosity

-the greatness of heart that all of this inspired.

And when they come to judgement

let all those fruits we have borne

be their reward

and their forgiveness.

AMEN.

 

O Lamb of God
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God
that takest away the sins of the world,
grant us thy peace.