Transformed in the Light

By Judith Sutera, OSB

Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" that appears in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. This column appeared in the Aug. 6, 2016, edition of the Globe. 

Sister Judith SuteraAugust 6 is celebrated in some Christian denominations as the Feast of the Transfiguration. It recalls the time when Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountaintop where they saw him in a bright light speaking to Moses and Elijah. After that, they wanted to put up tents and stay there.

I must admit that in my whole life, I've never seen anyone literally aglow. I've never encountered anyone chatting with Moses and Elijah, nor visited with them myself. Yet most people who are prayerful would admit to brief moments in their lives when they truly felt they were bathed in the comforting or searing glow of God's presence, and experienced some kind of transfiguration. Who wouldn't want, as the apostles did, to build a temple to that moment, to want to keep it alive and stay in it as long as possible? Jesus, being more perfect, speaks the truth we need to hear in the face of that temptation: we must return to the ordinary.

Think of someone you've known that you feel was really holy. How often have you seen them float up off of the floor or shine brilliant white? Did you ever see visions of saints around them, or see the Holy Spirit circling their head? So it was not great signs that made you feel they were holy. Obviously, there must be other, more mundane ways to recognize the presence of holiness.

 The sad fact Jesus was trying to get through to his disciples is that most of life occurs between those rare moments of transfiguration. Even the holiest spend most of their time off the mountain. We prove that we've really been there and really saw something, not by the monuments we build on the site, but by what we do when we get back.

From what I've read, I suspect that day-to-day life with those who have too many moments of intense transfiguration could be very hard on everyone. If we can't build tents on the mountain, what should we build in the ordinary places to honor transfiguration and make it stay with us? We have only our ordinary selves, transformed by ordinary experiences. First, we recognize that we are frail and made of earth. Then we come to understand that God can be present in us anyway, just as we are. Then we can rejoice in the transforming power of God. We survive perplexity and persecution and affliction, from outside and within. We come to believe and proclaim.

At the end of this great process, then what? Will we be in ecstasy, glow in the dark, heal the sick, convert the world? No, at the end of the process, as Jesus disappointingly tells the apostles, we'll do exactly what we were doing before, and start all over again tomorrow. The key is that we've seen the light of transfiguration, and the light has filled us, and so it can shine out of our darkness.

Despite the hard things that would follow, the apostles knew and believed what they had seen. And this was enough to keep them going. It is the memory of the light, and the assurance that we are God's beloved, that strengthens and permanently transforms us. What we see in those holy ones is the fruit of their contemplation, and the light shining in them, even as they are still doing the same old things as the rest of us. They carry their transfiguration: the change from fear to love, from routine to reverent act. They can see everything in the light they have seen.