(updated from a 2009 posting)
I admit it – I love Harry Potter. I love the stories, the rich details, its complexities, and the colorful characters. I wish I had gone to Hogwarts School myself, where among other things I would have studied Transfiguration, and learned there such skills as transforming inanimate objects into animals, along with conjuring and vanishing spells – so useful for changing a scary thing into something funny (riddikulus!) or filling a room with flowers (orchideous!). Sadly, we can rarely transform other things or people, much less make them appear or disappear just by wishing it so. We’re really only able to change ourselves and our responses to life’s twists and turns.
The words transformation and transfiguration are usually thought to be synonymous, equivalent to the radical changes of metamorphosis. They all point to an external change in appearance – a caterpillar-to-butterfly kind of change in form/figure. We usually save transfiguration, however, for those times when something or someone is not just changed, but also elevated to a new level of beauty. I’m not prepared to say that butterflies are always more beautiful than caterpillars, and I don’t believe there are any objective measures for beauty anyway, but we might agree that our hearts are able to discern what is truly beautiful and transfiguring in our lives.
This Sunday is something known on the liturgical calendar as Transfiguration Sunday. Actually, in our lovely mastery of compromise, Episcopalians celebrate this event twice. Once on the last Sunday of Epiphany (March 3 in 2019) in accordance with Protestant practice and again on August 6, in line with the Roman Catholic Church. Celebrate might be too strong a word, since I’m doubtful that you’ve sent out your Transfiguration greeting cards or planned the traditional Transfiguration meal for your family. But these dates in the lectionary ask us to remember that moment in the Bible when Jesus was suddenly filled with radiant light, while on a mountain with his disciples. He transfigured himself, dazzling their eyes with light and giving the disciples another sign that he was indeed the Son of God. And so it was that by changing himself he was able to change the hearts and minds of others.
The Roman Catholic Church calls this day one of five “Luminous Mysteries” and it is an occasion to pray with the rosary. Luminous mystery – isn’t that a beautiful phrase? This choral work by the American composer Eric Whitacre captures luminous mystery for me.
Changing ourselves doesn’t happen by accident. We have to want to change, and we probably have to do it without enrolling in a Transfiguration class. No magic spells, just the hard work of changing those habits that keep us stuck in the dark places of ignorance, fear and selfishness.
But if I could send you a Transfiguration card it would read:
May you be filled with luminous mystery
It’s really the only way to bring light to our world after all, and fortunately there is a spell for that! Lumos!
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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of connections between old and new.
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