Lining the walkway to our church are eight wooden planters. For the season of Lent, they’re filled with arrangements of eucalyptus branches in graceful shades of purple and green. Purple for the robe of Jesus, symbolic of suffering and pain, is entwined with spring green, the color of growth, rebirth, and transformation. Historically, from the eucalyptus itself, healing oils are extracted for treatment of wounds and sickness. Color choice and foliage form a perfect Lenten symmetry.
Elements Theatre Company is performing “A Christmas Carol” right now. Such a classic Christmas story — I look forward to seeing some version of it this year. But something different is striking me about it this season. It doesn’t feel like just a heart-warming Christmas story any more. It is a challenging and hopeful story of daring to say yes to a journey that takes you places you don’t want to go – so that you can emerge someplace you never thought you could be.
We’re presenting it in the style of Reader’s Theatre — so there are no sets or costumes or props to draw the attention — just the words. The line that grabs my heart is towards the end. After years of hardening his heart, treating people like dirt and closing himself off to any conviction or change, Scrooge says yes to a wild ride through his past — looking at every painful memory and bad choice he made and facing it. No one has he treated worse then his nephew Fred, who valiantly tries to invite him to Christmas dinner each year.
Having found himself alive Christmas morning and overwhelmed with gratitude and joy, Scrooge makes his way to Fred’s house, shows up on his doorstep and asks “Will you let me in, Fred?”
Total vulnerability and willingness to shed all pride — in the risk that Fred could turn him away. Such a simple sentence — and so powerful — the story of Transfiguration in six words.
We recently began a small renovation project in our convent. We had most of the needed materials on hand, and our best estimates were low cost, minimal labor, with a high-end result. Our coat room needed the uplift, no question. Gradually and mysteriously, a bump high enough to climb had appeared in the center of the floor. As with most home improvements, once past the carpet removal stage, the problem was greater than expected. It required the purchase of plywood and even though sisters are good carpenters, some outside expertise. It seems to me that God is in the renovating business of the human kind. Once His work begins, at least in me, it’s always more complicated than anticipated. But to be refurbished, restored and renewed makes the process well worth it.
The air has the first hints of that autumn crispness that comes with the change of season. People carry on as if they don’t notice; visitors to the Cape set up on a piece of beach to eke out the last bit of vacation. But the change is there. Knowing Cape Cod, we’ll probably be blasted with one final heat wave just when we think fall has arrived to stay.
It’s amazing the subtle signs we learn to read that tell us change is coming. The gradual change in the morning light, just a bit darker at 6 a.m. now. The slow, almost imperceptible change of color in the green of the tree leaves and plants. The flourishing of garden vegetables planted in early summer. And the sudden and refreshing change in temperature.
This is sometimes how God works with us as he changes us. We go through seasons and our “color” changes slightly or an inner garden suddenly flourishes. I had the chance to work on the Community grape vines this weekend and I couldn’t help but think about all this, as I chopped off stray vines that were sucking life away from the fruit. It was satisfying to clear away the pieces not needed to give the fruit a better chance as we look forward to the season for picking and stomping. Perhaps I could be a bit less protective when God tries to clear away my excess vines.
Listening to the rain pattering off the trees reminded me of summer camp in the mountains. Nothing between us and the rain but a cabin screen; bundled up in sweatshirts as the late August air rapidly released the swelter of its heat; happily marooned with fellow cabin mates—our family unit for the summer.
I learned a lot about myself in the casual acceptance of total strangers. Slipped from the moorings of whatever it was that I thought my family expected of me, I tried out new ways of being myself. I saw the world with different eyes. I know I was lucky; I know I was loved; and I don’t take for granted the work that it took to build an environment for kids that was that safe and that sound.
This past Sunday we observed the Feast of the Transfiguration, celebrating the revelation of Christ’s divine glory on Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John attending. Three ordinary men, witnessing an extraordinary event. Because they were there, I understand that I can be there too, a witness to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in myself and those around me.
Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is the event for which our church is named and an expression of our vows — the willingness, and even eagerness, to be changed — transformed “into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” ( 2 Cor: 2,18). It’s no small thing this transfiguration business. Old opinions and ideas die hard and it can sometimes feel like surgery without anesthesia. And it doesn’t necessarily produce instant results…and that’s the kicker for me. I am a black and white “if I do this then this will happen” sort of person. I want to be able to chart my progress in spiritual growth. The sermon reminded us that that isn’t how it works. The scripture says, “from one degree of glory to another” — little by little, sometimes imperceptible — and we may not notice anything has changed until we look back. So we keep going and try, as Oswald Chambers says, to: “Let other things come and go as they will…but never be hurried out of the relationship of abiding in Him. And the more we abide in Him, the more we will come to resemble Him – from one degree of glory to another.”
There’s a common expression to “play it safe.” Meaning to be careful, to not go all in, to hedge your bets so as not to risk too much — so as not to loose control.
Jesus was so unsafe. Everything Jesus did on the earth was unsafe.He frightened people, he broke laws, angered the establishment. And yet every single person that came to him was healed.
Following him means that I stand against much of what society strives for; to be secure, safe, to know what is going on — instantly. I usually feel unsafe giving my whole heart, without reserve, to whatever I may be doing. What if I look foolish, what if I do something inappropriate, like loose my temper, or reach out to love someone, and they don’t love me back? Most of the day I’m careful — I worry about the consequences of my actions.
But Jesus was so unsafe. At the Transfiguration, the one moment Jesus was revealed as God on earth, Mark writes in his Gospel that the disciples “did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”
Sometimes in feeling terrified we may be witnesses of something great, something very much bigger then ourselves, like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. The paradox is that by loving in a way that may feel unsafe, we end up making safe living possible. We are much safer living in the hope of something much grander, and much more everlasting than ourselves. This idea can feel unsafe, but Jesus is safe.
I would like to beg you….as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I read this letter by Rainer Maria Rilke and it reminded me of one of the founders of our Community, Mother Cay Anderson. I was only 6 when Mother Cay died, so what I know of her is mostly through other people’s stories.
Sometimes I’m discouraged in my walk as a young Christian, feeling like I still wrestle with many of the same questions, doubts, and unbelief that I had when I first became a Christian. When I feel this way, a Brother likes to remind me of a saying that he had been taught by Mother Cay. She would encourage him by saying “it takes a lifetime to come into Christ.”
I find the combination of these two ideas comforting. Rilke’s notion of living your heart’s questions now, and Mother Cay’s encouragement to not be too impatient with yourself.
Each of our lifetimes is vastly unique, but I dare say that each phase of our lives is equally necessary, the good times as well as the difficult times. Hopefully in the end, each question we wrestle with will come together to make the whole person we are becoming.
My morning bible study centered on this scripture from Revelation 21: “Behold, I make all things new.” It’s a wonderful promise, but I confess, I’m not always eager to embrace the process. I gave some thought to how God proposes to achieve His goal. He says His people will be refined as one refines gold. (Please note that the gold refining process includes applications of nitric acid and a fire of 1,947.52 degrees Fahrenheit!)
The verb refine is defined as “the process of removing impurities or unwanted elements; improve by making small changes; bring to a pure state and free from coarse and unsuitable characteristics.”
To be free of the parts of me that inhibit love, cause hurt to others, and impede my walk in Christ are well worth the price of refining.