Transfiguration: Year A Frank* and I hiked Mt Moosilauke in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in late summer. We arrived at the top and were enveloped in cloud. Moosilauke means bald place in what I guess is Abenaki. The bald place with spectacular views was denied us. Our attention was drawn to plants, scrub trees and late flowers covered in hoar frost. Hoar frost is when dew meets freezing temperatures and laces whatever it touches with a crystalline layer of ice. The top of the mountain became an enclosure with permeable walls that breathed in and out with the movement of the mist and the light breeze.
The bald place became a tabernacle where earth, wind, fire and ice conspired to transform the space into its particular form and beauty. Each leaf, branch, sedge, rock, lichen, and vine invited us closer to witness its transformation into frozen garments of ice and light. On a clear day when you can “see forever”, you don’t often have the opportunity to notice what’s at your feet or in front of your nose. That day was a kind of transfiguration. Mount Tabor in Israel is one sight where pilgrims are told the Transfiguration took place. Today we may ride to the top where, wouldn’t you know, a church and convent have been built. The mount is smaller than Moosilauke and yet clouds from the Mediterranean and from winds drifting north from the Sea of Galilee carry much potential for transfiguration. Maybe Jesus had always been radiant, clothed in light
For me it’s totally real and present that Jesus would be in intimate conversation with his spiritual mentors, Moses and Elijah. Who would you and I invite to the mountain with us? Certainly a good friend and who else? Jesus, Mary, Abraham Heschel, Merton, Nouwen? It was almost 2000 years after the event that we were there. Diminutive nuns sold us beautiful carved olive wood crosses and we could see for miles over the valley. When Jesus is transfigured into light and holiness, the voice from the cloud announces, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” Haven’t some of us in our revelry or madness heard a similar voice saying, “You are my beloved son or daughter?” The second part of the voice from the cloud directed to the disciples, “Listen to Him,” was absent in my times on the bald place and on Mt Tabor. It is not important that you listen to me. I am like the old monk who sits beside the river and hands out river water to anyone who would pass by. We point to Him. It is to Him where we attune our ears to hear the words that open the mind and the heart. And don’t stay on the mountaintop. Your transfigured self is needed right where you are in your everyday life, when clothed in light, you know your being is valued by God. *Frank Cloherty is a Roman Catholic priest who became a friend when we shared congregations adjacent to each other in Malden and Revere, Massachusetts. He is now living in Quincy, MA
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Matthew 5: 1-12. Micah 6:7-8.
In my first parish a beleaguered member of the congregation complained, “You always talk about the poor. What about us?” So I said, “When I talk about the poor it is about us.” It’s about those of us who are not poor.
The problem here is that Jesus is about the poor. The prime concern for the poor is probably to secure enough food to feed their family and warm blankets and a roof over their heads. Most of the folk in the church were running away so fast from the memory of poverty that they never wanted to see it again. What did the poor have to do with us?
It could be useful to understand that we are all in the same boat. When we don’t see ourselves as poor, could Jesus be offering poverty as a goal for our spiritual direction? He points the direction toward a relationship with the One Thing that is necessary; our relationship with God. For example, if one is or isn’t poor Jesus points in the direction towards those things which keep us from that one critical relationship with God. To what do we hang on? What holds us hostage? What possessions, ideas, hurts, injustices or what anything keeps us from the one thing that is necessary?
The poor in spirit are those who, with God’s grace, remove the veil that separates from the holy. Like the pure in heart, they see God because that is what they want to see. Their will is focused on God, the God in and through all creation, the God in the neighbor and the enemy. Thus the goal is to will the one thing that is necessary, the love and mercy of God and to see through, as much as we can, the eyes of the Holy.
It’s hard to see with the eyes of God, but not impossible. Poverty as a spiritual direction is one of the steps that lead to God. It is to have enough for the day, as it was for the Hebrews in the wilderness, but not too much to separate us from the merciful and generous heart of God. The problem for those of us with too many things is that they own us, we do not own them. The real poor may have a greater insight into the heart of God. They understand they are dependent on the goodness of the holy.
It’s not all up to us. Whether we are rich because of fortune, race, gifts and hard work, we know it may be gone in the blink of an eye. What is important is the one thing that is necessary; to open the door into the presence of the holy; to see each other and the creation as the true gifts we are.
Gandhi’s comment about the poor has been instructive throughout a long ministry. After all our plans and prayers Gandhi asked, “What difference will it make to the poor?” Clearly
Gandhi knew the poor.
We are the poor and we are not the poor. Any confusion is mine. We travel on humbly walking with God. Chosen or not we are enfolded in the arms of God’s love. `We know God’s mercy because God has been merciful to us. We walk in justice because we have lived in times of God’s great compassion. We put on the mantle of poverty because it reduces the clutter and focuses on one thing; the key that opens us to the mercy, justice and love of God. All else passes, the one with the most toys…loses.
And with the Mahatma I ask, “What difference will any of this make to the poor?”