When I was growing up one of my favorite things to do was to go to the beach. We lived on an island, so the sea was never far away. I loved the water and often my mother would joke that I must have somehow become part fish. But as I got older I came to appreciate the beach more in the off-season than during the summer. This was because there were fewer people at that time and it was easier to have a sense of reflection upon nature while walking the shore. I have always felt the presence of God near a body of water and have learned to notice much about creation. One can see variations of shells, even those that are no longer intact, which tell a story about sea life. If you really look, even the rocks speak of the varying strata of the earth, some of which has been raised over millions of years by the workings of the seas and forces almost unimaginable.
On a recent trip we stopped at the shore of a lake in Colorado. The rocks there were incredibly eye-catching because of the hues of red that were interspersed with rocks of other colors. Many of the rocks were blood red, and one looked like a slice of red velvet cake, perfectly cut as if for a party. That particular rock made me smile because I had never seen anything like it. What was most amazing to me was that with all the beauty of the shore and the mountains across the lake, the rocks under my feet were the most captivating. I wondered what the origin of these rocks might have been; what mountain had they come from? How long had they been there? Though inanimate, I wondered what story they could tell. In all this, it seemed to me that each one was giving glory to God in its own way, especially the one that resembled a slice of cake.
The Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated this week. What has struck me most when reflecting upon it this year is how Jesus was giving glory to the Father in revealing Himself to His three closest friends. This was really nothing new: God's glory was revealed throughout the Old Testament especially when Moses went up the mountain and entered into the shekinah, the cloud that came over the mountain and is God's protective presence. It was so intense that the face of Moses radiated and had to be covered after each encounter. There are many other examples, including those in the writings of the prophets, many of whom had visions of God in some way. For example, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had intense experiences which they attempted to convey. They had to use highly symbolic language to ‘express the inexpressible’ of their encounters with God.
At the Transfiguration Jesus sought to reveal the glory of God as well as His identity as God’s Son. He brought His three closest friends/apostles up Mt. Tabor to do so. After they witnessed the glory of God in Him, as He shone with such light that they were amazed at the brightness, the Father then revealed Himself and the Spirit so that the apostles could not only witness a manifestation of the Trinity, but also would know Jesus was indeed God's Son, the second Person of the Trinity. But it is the glory of God that is the most remarkable part of this manifestation. To see Jesus transfigured was so overwhelming and beautiful that Peter exclaimed something about building three tents on the mountain, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. (Matthew 17) This is odd: Moses and Elijah are not Jesus' equals. But Peter said it before the Trinity was manifested. No sooner did the words leave his mouth then the cloud (shekinah) descended and the voice of the Father was heard. Truly Peter did not yet understand what he had just experienced. He had seen the glory of God in Jesus, and he had seen the glory of Jesus in God as part of the Trinity.
The apostles were so overwhelmed by being in the presence of the glory of God that they became speechless; it was probably because they were so overwhelmed by the mystery and the glory of God that they became ‘verklempt.’ But these three did not need to say a word. The very rocks were crying out of the glory of God which had appeared amongst them. Mount Tabor was never the same, nor would the world be: the Son of God had been revealed and was now headed to Jerusalem to further glorify the Father. However, we discover that the silence of the apostles was only when they were completely awed by the Transfiguration event. They began to ask questions on the way down the mountain in an attempt to understand. Surely such an encounter made a deep impression and changed them, even if they could not yet understand it.
It seems as if the lack in the three apostle’s ability to speak was made up for by their witness to the others after they returned from the mountain. In Luke's gospel when Jesus entered into Jerusalem shortly after the Transfiguration, the authorities demanded that He rebuke His disciples for their zealous welcome. Jesus replied: "I tell you, if they keep silent the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40) This is what it means to be witness to the glory of God. We cannot remain silent. We should reflect on the mystery and wonder of God, and like the apostles, we will realize we cannot understand it. To be in awe and wonder does not imply we should understand. It means we stand in the presence of the inexpressible and we acknowledge the mystery. It is like standing in front of a remarkable icon: we stand in Taboric light* and allow the mystery to penetrate and draw us, but to attempt words is to override the icon, thus missing the point, so to speak. The point is to enter in, not to analyze. We do the reflection when we are finished with the experience and not before. But the experience does change us somehow and that change is expressed through our words and deeds.
God's glory is also found in the places least expected. When we do meet a broken child of God we can witness it in our own healing love for them. Even the ugliest creature can reveal God's glory, but we have to work at that, whether it is our own ability to see it, or in helping the person to heal enough for it to be revealed. There is no force that can overcome the love, and hence the glory, of God. In Romans 8 St. Paul puts it beautifully: there is no power above, below, or here on earth greater than the love of God. Wherever love is found, the glory of God is found. Often there are great challenges to that love, and as we all know, there are evils which seek to confound that love, some of which are very large and ominous. But we also know that in the end, the glory of God will triumph no matter what the travail before that may be.
Therefore let us be as the stones which cry out to the glory of God through our witness of love. If we are steadfast in our faith and the assurance Jesus has given us that He is always with us even until the end of time, we have nothing to fear. All we need to do is look past the seemingly mundane and into the intricacy of what is really around us. If we can do that with nature, we can also learn to do it with people, especially those unlike ourselves. Let us learn to listen and hear the very stones cry out to the glory of God! But then we must speak, to cry out of God's glory through the practice of justice to work for peace, in forgiving, and in simply telling another person of the beauty and glory of God we see in them. That is what disciples do. We do not remain silent. We let our words and actions give glory to God who comes in immense beauty not just in nature, but in us. We are the ones who like the stones, cry out of His glory every time we love another human being.
May we draw strength and courage from the immeasurable light of the love of God! May we bring that light into our world through our good works, our patience, our perseverance, our kindness, our trust, and our prayer! May we do what we can to take the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the glory of God when we are in places which reflect His beauty in nature, which often is right in our own backyard! And may we give praise to our God who reveals Himself in the glory of His love! Let us continue to meet in His heart! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*I have to give credit for this description to Fr. William Hart McNichols who taught me this (in quoting Paul Evdokimov in his book Orthodoxy) while helping me to grow in my understanding of iconography. The icon just below the quote is one of Fr. Bill's works, Hagia Hesychia Jesus Christ Redeemer Holy Silence. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/283-hagia-hesychia-jesus-christ-redeemer-holy-silence. By the way, some reproductions of Fr. Bill's icons can be found on a new medium, glass, and are ready for purchase, just as the giclees and plaques are available. See http://www.fatherbill.org/glass-art-prints for more details. These are truly beautiful so do check it out. (Remember by promoting his work I get no remuneration. I do get the pleasure of sharing the wealth of his work, however.)
The photos are mine, all taken in Colorado.
The first painting is The Transfiguration by Bl. Fra Angelico, and is located in St. Mark's in Florence, Italy. This image was found at http://www.joyfulheart.com/easter/images/fra_angelico_entry425x620.jpg
The second painting, The Entry into Jerusalem was pointed by Giotto and can be found at https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Entry-into-Jerusalem-Giotto-di-Bondone. The original is found at the Arena Chapel (Cappella Scrovegni) in Padua, Italy.
Heart Speaks to Heart