Becoming who we are
Preacher: Catherine Staziker, Cathedral Reader (2006-2010)
18 February 2007, 10:30 (1 before Lent)
Exodus 34: 29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2, Luke 9: 28-36
All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord, as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
This has not been a good week for me. Despite all the careful preparation over the last few weeks, I sat in front of my computer yesterday wondering what on earth I could say that would be positive and encouraging, yet honest. I’d nothing to say. Our readings, this morning are full of the light and of glory of God, full of hope and encouragement. In the epistle, we hear Paul’s enthusiasm as he talks about Moses mountain-top encounter with God in the Old Testament. We hear his excitement as he describes Jesus’ and his disciples’ experience up their mountain, and Jesus’ dramatic transfiguration, and what this really means for the Corinthians and for us.
Still, I’d nothing to say! How could I talk about the glory of God when at that moment, I had no felt experience of it. Then I went into the garden – the head of a single crocus flower pushing itself up through a polythene liner– amazingly beautiful. Then a trip down the stairs to my cellar (my pottery workshop), the excitement of cracking open a kiln and the discovery of the most beautiful bowl I have ever made. Yes, lots of evidence of the glory of God. I found my heart burning with thankfulness and amazement at God’s glory and his creation, some of it through me. Suddenly I had lots to say, too much, but don’t worry I won’t try to say it all today!
I wonder if you in your faith go through these periods of searching, questioning and agonising, times of deep loneliness, and moments of great inner uncertainty and ambiguity. Do you wonder what the point of it all is? What the point of life actually is? What the point of being a Christian is? What exactly it is you’re meant to be doing with your life. What you would like to do, what it is you’re being called to do, and how indeed you’re ever going to know this. Existentialism in all its fullness; that overawing feeling of responsibility for creating meaning in one’s own life.
Inevitably in my case, this always brings me to the next question: Who am I? Who am I? Well, I am a stockbroker by profession, I am a Reader, I work for the Church. I am a potter. I am a daughter. I am an aunt. I could go on! It’s easy to describe oneself in terms of what one does and in relation to ones family. And we all know too well, the loss of identity which can accompany the loss of a job or career, or a broken relationship. I have only told you what I do and who I am in relation to others, not who I am. So who am I? What is it that makes me, ME?
I imagine that Jesus had a very clear sense of his identity. From all that we know of Him, it seems that he was comfortable in his own skin, comfortable with who he was from an early age. Picture him at the age of just twelve in the temple, ‘in his father’s house’, questioning and talking with the scribes.
Since Christmas, our lectionary has highlighted the major events in his life when his true identity was revealed and when others acknowledged this identity. The Epiphany light shining on him as he lay in the manger, the dramatic parting of the heavens at his Baptism (my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased), Simeon and Anna’s encounter with him (a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of Israel), the story of his Transfiguration today (my Son, my chosen).
I guess that today’s readings about transformation and transfiguration, provide a good opportunity to ask the question “Who am I?” Who are we? What is our calling?
Imagine, an ugly green caterpillar crawling along a tree branch and spinning a cocoon. Some time later, the tomb cracks open and shimmering wings emerge, stretch and dry. Soon, floating free on a summer breeze, is the startling beauty of a butterfly. The form and freedom of the butterfly were always potential but captive within the caterpillar. This is metamorphosis, transfiguration; hidden form transformed into visible being. A wonderful metaphor for becoming oneself and for human flourishing.
And here (place amaryllis flower on the edge of the pulpit), the Hesketh family’s wonderful Christmas present to me. In December, it was just a small wizened bulb from which protruded a few tiny green shoots. Yet here we are weeks and it has grown and flourished into these amazing flowers. The wizened bulb has become what it was intended to become.
Jesus transfiguration – the bright light, the cloud, the voice, the vision – revealed his essential nature and being; it revealed who he already was. He did not become God’s son; he was already the beloved and chosen son whom God loved and was pleased with.
Transfiguration for us is the process of becoming who we are, setting free the potential that is hidden and captive within us. We were created in the image of God, out of love. He created us to be ourselves and to reflect him. “He created my inmost parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb”. We are his chosen ones, his beloved ones.
In seeing the glory of the Lord as though being reflected in a mirror, we are each being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
The hidden glory of God is revealed in Christ, but also in each and every person who follows him, each and every one of us. Jesus came that we might flourish and blossom and live life in all its fullness. St Irenaeus said “The glory of God is a man or a woman who is truly alive.”
In the process of this “becoming”, we must allow the veil to be removed in order to reveal what is hidden. This sounds like a simple process: it is not! Authenticity is a quality which is universally accepted as intrinsically good, yet from an early age, we all place masks over the face of our “real” selves. We adopt roles and play games which disguise our true and real selves. John Powell’s book of the early 60s asks: “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?” The answer: “Because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have”. We are all afraid of being judged by and compared to others. The process of daring to become oneself can be frightening, but transformation cannot happen without some self-awareness and effort. It is painful. We come into this world with nothing but our selves and leave it nothing but ourselves.
So,who am I and what am I called to be and to do? I am, and am called to be, a reflection of God’s love and his glory and to play my part in this transformation, by trying to remove this veil from my eyes that stops me seeing God in me and in others. Could it be that we are still actually living in Eden and just don’t recognise it?! There’s a teaching in the Talmud: “We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are”. Transfiguration and transformation should help us to see God in ourselves, in our neighbours and in the world.
So now that one has some idea of who one might be and what one’s calling as a Christian might be, what then? Harry Williams in his book Becoming What I Am, talks about opening oneself to the simplicity of the gospel and to God’s love, to becoming fully oneself. He says “to become fully yourself is a terrible risk. It would commit you to God knows what and lead you God knows where. . . . . . ”.
In the case of “the Abbé Pierre”, a French catholic priest and a member of the French resistance, he felt called to fight for the rights the homeless and founded the first Emmaus community almost 60 years ago (1949). He died last month at the age of 94. After the war, a man called Georges came to him in desperate need, having just tried to commit suicide in the Seine. The Abbé Pierre offered him help and he remained with him, helping to build temporary homes for others in need. Georges infact became the first Emmaus Companion. The Abbé Pierre, not only gave him money, a home, and somewhere to work, but more importantly hope, a sense of self, and something to live for.
The Emmaus Medway initiative, which we are supporting with our collections today, will be launched here this afternoon. It is the hoped that it will give people the opportunity to experience transfiguration and transformation through Jesus Christ, and to become who and what they were made to be.
We are all God’s beloved children. Let us become who we already are. And let there be light — transfiguration light — within us.
Almighty Father, whose Son ws revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross; give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory. Amen.