Friends came over to visit and have dinner the other night. Lives shared, good times together and one of our friends shared this story/idea from a Jesuit priest he had met on retreat:
Think of this: pick up an “empty” glass — what is in it? Nothing? No, not nothing — it’s full of air! Think of that air as sin ( or separation, or all of those things we do that are not good for us — annoying or bad habits, stupid stuff, whatever).
Fill that glass with water.
What happened to the air? Why it’s forced out, replaced by the water. If the water is the Water of Life, if the water is a walk with God, a growing spiritual awakening, in Christian terms it is the life of Christ in the glass… Aha! if you fill up on the water, there is no space for the sin.
So, don’t worry as much about the sin — fill up with God’s Love, with the Water of Life and there simply will be less room for other stuff. It’s not easy. I know — sometimes I want to shake up the glass and make sure I can mix the air back in just to keep it around. But, I think this approach could really work out well.
If a teacher would bring up these two terms, I fear the question would be: Contrast and compare transfiguration and transformation. They are different, yes, but, it seems also very intertwined. And, they’ve been on my radar for a couple of days.
Saturday night, USA ran Schindler’s List comercial free, wrapped only in an into and epilogue by Steven Spielberg who spoke about tolerance and about the Shoah Foundation. I had never seen the movie before, and found parts of it twisting my stomach into knots with horror. I can in some ways understand those Holocaust deniers who cannot accept that this happened. This bit of history reflects some of the worst of humanity.
So, how does this play into transfiguration and transformation? Oskar Schindler, of course. Schindler doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Schindler’s transformation into a man who would go to the ends of his world to save his people. Schindler who was transformed in a way by how the Jews he had under his protection had been transfigured for him into human beings, worthy of protection and care. By the end of the movie, the end of WWII in Europe, this man had been changed, almost in spite of himself.
Another theme I found in the movie was just a hint of how the cruelty and inhumanity of the entire cancerous Nazi philosophy and practices twisted those involved. I’m in no way defending Goeth, but there was a glimpse of a deeply disturbed man, fighting against his own humanity. I got a glimpse of how his choices and his world ate away at him, leaving behind a damaged, dangerous individual who couldn’t face himself and struck out at anything that came close to his “good” side.
Enter Sunday’s Gospel: the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. I listened to this reading in the aftermath of the movie. I thought to myself that the Transfiguration sounded more like the transformation of the disciples so that they could truly see Jesus, more than any change in Jesus. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Who knows what can happen if we allow ourselves to see differently? To be transformed so as to see a transfigured world around us.
Think about it.
I’m taking a class this term with OLLI – “Writing Our Lives.” One of the questions posed in the reference book we use for the class (The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, Sharon M. Lippincott) is “Why are you writing?” Obviously there is no right answer to this question. But, it caused me to struggle a bit as I reflected on the “Why?”
My writing is not to tell my story for my children and grandchildren. If they find my writing interesting, that is wonderful. But, I write to tell my story to myself. I write to sort my memories which are dominated by the emotions of the moment/event instead of objective observances. Often, I can recall how I felt, but not what caused me to laugh or cry. This is strange, since I overtly make decisions by thinking through things. This is not so strange when I recall that big decisions are made based on my gut.
Writing is a way to walk back through a memory and put flesh on it. Writing forces me to not just have an emotional response, but to sit with it and hear what that emotion is telling me. It might be telling me about myself or about another person. If I remember fear, writing about it helps me to sort through what made me afraid [or sad, happy, content] and learn not only what I fear, but why. Writing is helpful because it helps me to name my fears and joys and sorrows. And, if have found that in real life, just as in magic and fantasy and folklore, if you can name something, it loses a lot of it’s control over you.
I suspect that the unpronounceable name of God, YWHW (or whatever those letters were) was affirmation of the fact that we can never truly name or tame God. We can however name and take some control over other things and relationships in our lives. Writing is my way of doing that.
In Alabama, the new school year is starting. In the US, those of us who work in education or are closely related to those who do, are surely aware of No Child Left Behind. Sounds like a good idea on the surface. But, the guidelines seem to reflect Garrison Keillor’s claim about lake Woebegon: “… and all the children are above average.” Something about the concept of average got lost. To have be average means that something is above (higher, better, a bigger number) you and something is below (lower, not as good, smaller number) you… or that everything is exactly the same, with nothing outstanding at all. Not gonna work, if I understand the requirements. If you get everyone up to what was the average when you started, and some move beyond, then average is higher.
Don’t get me wrong here — I want every child to be able to develop to her/his own potential. I do want some recognition that each child’s potential can be quite different.
So, what happens? Too often, teachers find that they must “Teach to the test.” Teach only those things that someone has decreed to be essential, because if any child can’t master this enough to fill in the proper circle on the page, then the entire year is a failure. Leaves little room for preparing those kids to think, to experiment, to learn even more (or less) than the prescribed lesson.
It seems rather like church. I didn’t grow up a Catholic, but even I can start to give a Baltimore Catechism answer to Who is God? Why did God Make Us? It’s true that catechism (Baltimore or New) answers can give a starting point for exploring my own walk in faith. So often, it seems, rote answers are the end of this journey, not the beginning. The proper answer is what is expected. It is the test. The Church teaches to the Test, instead of leading people beyond or pointing people to the Source. I have a strong sense that Jesus wasn’t looking for everyone to be average.
Just thinking… that’s all.
Ten years ago, I was moving back into this house after a five month sojourn around town. The house had burned in March and we spent the spring and summer inhabiting interesting digs: a condo designed for folks who wanted a nice place close to campus for football weekends, followed by the summer in an apartment complex where is was us “old guys” and a bunch of male college sophomores. That was interesting. I was growing herbs (basil, rosmary, sage, etc) in a window basket. It took the neighbors weeks to get up the nerve to ask about the vegetation in the planter. I think that they were both disappointed and relieved to discover than these were for cooking, not for smoking.
Back to the house.
One of the really sweet things about this rebuilding was the fact that I picked paint colors, and someone else did the painting. What a concept. The coordinated colors went together well. They were on the walls for 10 years. But, in many respects and in many parts of the house, like the living room and hall, they were safe, neutral ginger cream off-white. That made things light (good thing), but not very inspiring. The intense color in the kitchen has been my favorite. And, that was the inspiration for the new paint. So, far, we have sage in the formerly pale living room which sets off the leather couches and the furniture (and the shiny white trim) in a way that I find comforting and inspiring. And the hall has more color, albeit something called Sand Motif.
So — how does this get to renewal? My understanding of a sacrament is that it is an outward (physical) sign of an interior grace (change/process). This new color scheme is a sign to me that somehow I have healed and grown and find myself more free to express this in an outward manner. I fussed over the colors. I studied the combination of colors. I got the quote from a long time friend and excellent painter. I was really concerned about how this living room (and other rooms) would look. This is a new wardrobe for my living space.
Yesterday, when I headed out to the gym, the walls were ginger cream. When I got back, the first coat of sage greeted me — and filled me with joy. I love it. I love the way things look. It affirmed that inner feeling in a visible way. Sacrament.
True, a new coat of paint can be just a cosmetic enhancement or it can reveal something that just needed to get out. This color change seems to be a bit like spring with new colors and new growth. In time, it will move to summer and fall and become just another part of the backdrop of life. I will grow accustomed to it and probably not think about it. It will become a part of the house. But for now, I’m enjoying the beginning of something new.