My great aunt Petzie died in Michigan last year. Last week would have been her 96th birthday. I first met her when I was a teenager living in Texas. She came to visit us, and I was enamored with her. She radiated love and spoke of Jesus as her best friend in a way that made me believe she and Jesus had something special going on.
Then I learned more about her story. She raised eight children as a single mother. She got up at 3 am each morning to run a paper route. Then she came home, got the kids up, fed and off to school. She then went to work, after which she came home and took care of the kids and often did a third job at night to make ends meet. In the midst of all this, she battled both a brain tumor and polio, which left her with a significant limp. Yet she lost neither her gratitude nor her sense of connection with God.
As a teenager, I pondered how unfair it was that this amazing woman had to face such unrelenting hardship. Then it dawned on me that it was this constellation of hardships that transformed her into the woman she became. Rather than become disheartened, her heart expanded with new challenges until she radiated a gritty love that did not waver. In seeing her, I felt I was seeing a bit of God’s radiance.
I’m reminded of the story in the Bible where Jesus hikes up a mountain with three of his friends. While there, Jesus starts to radiate God. Then a cloud envelopes them, and a voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved one. Listen to him.” Not your average hike!
So what are we to make of this? If the only point of the story is that Jesus was uniquely God, and we aren’t, that might inspire worship but not much else.
What if the story of the transfiguration of Jesus is meant to transfigure us? That is, what if Jesus radiating Divine Loving Essence is intended to spark the same radiance within each of us?
The ultimate point of the Jesus story is not that we worship him but rather that we become more like him.
And what was he like? With each trial, rejection, betrayal and hardship, he made a choice. Rather than react with vengeance or self-pity, he surrendered into a deeper place of the heart. He identified with The Essence of Life rather than just with his one individual life. The radiance of Sacred Essence beamed brightly until not even his skin could conceal it.
It really was revolutionary, and many religious folks simply couldn’t bear it, especially those who made worship and dogmatic purity a substitute for personal transformation and social justice.
We have the same choice. Will we allow ourselves to feel the pain of not getting what we want without getting stuck in the muck of disappointment? Will we identify less and less as our collection of moods and self-absorbed story lines? Will we respond to shortcomings in ourselves and others with ever-expanding understanding, truth-telling and compassion? Will we respond to challenges from an Inner Light that shines on every thought, word and action, yet is beyond them all?
If so, we will be transfigured. We will become more Christ-like, and the line will start to blur between where God ends and we begin.