Transfiguration

Transfiguration

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.

Stepping Stones

I was given this beautiful picture today, by a friend of mine. He is a fellow ordinand, and it is the picture on his Ember Card (cards sent out by people about to be ordained, asking for prayer for themselves, their families, their new parishes and  incumbent)

It struck a deep chord with me, and I have sat with it for some time, letting it speak to me. It is highly symbolic of just where I am, at the moment. I can see the other side of the river from here.  The far bank is suddenly, very close. There are still some ‘stepping stones’ to get there, of course.. and some of them have the potential of being quite wobbly. Like saying goodbyes to those I have lived with, learned alongside, laughed and cried with, in all the twists and turns of this crazy journey towards ordination.  I expect there maybe more wobbly ones too, and perhaps ones that catch me by surprise.

It has been a strange week in the Lectionary calendar. Several people have remarked to me how we have heard the same passage 4 or 5 times over the last few days. Very significant words too.

“You did not choose me, I have chosen you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” John 15:16 

They are especially significant, as we see them in chapel, two or three three times a day. Inscribed on the College icon, on the back wall of the chapel, the message of those words becomes almost a subliminal reminder, etching themselves in a deep place within. Since the icon was commissioned by the Common Room and written by Marianna Fortounatto in 1981, it will have been imprinted on many hearts through the years, in the ‘generations’ of students since then.

Rowan Williams, in his book, “The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ” (Canterbury Press, 2003) bases his chapter on the Pantocrator on the Westcott icon, writing, “the icon of the Pantocrator in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, was and is for me and many others a profoundly significant image.” Of its meaning he writes,

“The point is simple: face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are. We have been created to mirror his life, the eternal life of the one turned always toward the overflowing love of the Father; but our human existence constantly turns away. When we look at Jesus, we see in some measure what he sees, and are drawn to where his eyes lead us… we look at him looking at us, and try to understand that as he looks at us he looks at the Father. In other words, when he looks at us, he sees the love that is his own source and life, despite all we have done to obscure it in ourselves. When we look at him looking at us, we see both what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image and likeness, and what we have made of ourselves.”

If I hear the same passage four or five times in almost as many days, it feels like God is underlining something in red.. “This crazy journey was my idea.. and it is me who is sending you out from this place to go and bear fruit that will last” , perhaps?

Just as well He is going with us too.. ( I seem to remember Moses saying something similar.. ” If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” Exodus 33:15 NIV) Amen, Moses.

This is my ember card. The images I have used are taken from my stoles.

I will, God willing, be ordained as a deacon on the morning of July 1st 2012 . As I mentioned in my last post, all prayer much appreciated for those steps across the river. There is another whole journey, of course, that begins on the far bank.


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.