Benediction Online

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Why Not Become Entirely Fire?

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Today we come to the last Sunday of a long season of Epiphany and we end it as we began – with three men worshiping God revealed in Jesus. We started with three magi who had traveled long distances to find a baby born in an obscure place, and we end it with three fishermen worshiping their friend and master on a holy mountain.

Jesus is transfigured – he has become so one with God that this manifests itself physically and his whole body radiates light. The light who has come into the world is shining so strongly that it can be seen not just with the eyes of faith but with the physical eyes. And with him are Moses and Elijah – the representatives of the law and the prophets – which Jesus has come to fulfill. In this brief mountaintop experience, Jesus is revealed as the Christ, the one who has been expected, the human embodiment of God.

Transfiguration is also the fulfillment of our calling as the Body of Christ and as individual Christ-filled beings. We are called to embody God. Rainer Maria Rilke has a poem in his collection Love Poems to God in which he imagines the new human soul receiving its final instructions before incarnating: God says,

You, sent out beyond your recall, Go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.

This is not a partial experience of God but a complete make-over, in which we become so filled with the Holy Spirit that God’s light shines clearly through us. My favorite story form the Desert Fathers and Mothers is when the young brother goes to his elder and says, “Brother, I have sat in my cell and said my prayers and done everything I was told to do. What else is there?” And the older brother holds up his hands, and as he does so, flames spring from the top of every finger, and he says, “Why not become entirely fire?”

Why not become entirely fire?

What is stopping us from becoming so full of God that we become entirely fire, that we are transformed and even transfigured?

Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God. It didn’t happen immediately – he waited for six days. I imagine during that time he was praying and meditation, not tapping his foot and feeling impatient that God wasn’t showing up on time. He and Joshua watched, waited and prayed and then God called to him out of the cloud and he was there forty days and forty nights. When he came back down the mountain he was a changed man. We are told that after meeting with God, Moses’ face would glow so brightly that he had to wear a veil.

We are about to enter the forty days of Lent, our annual time of intentional waiting upon God. Will we come out of it transformed? Will we embody God in a new way? Will God’s light shine through us, the people of St Benedict’s, so that we become entirely fire?

That depends on God’s grace, and our willingness. Are we willing to fully embody God? Are we willing to truly live out our baptismal promise, to entrust ourselves entirely to the living God and become entirely fire?

It also takes work. Not that by our work we can earn the riches of God’s blessing, but because we are not created to be passive but to be active creative agents in God’s work. We are called to be co-creators with God. As we work for the coming of God’s kingdom, as we co-operate with Spirit, so we are transformed by God’s power working in us.

Prayer is the most important part of our work because it is in prayer that we are changed and it is through the power of our prayer that God is empowered to act. In the delicate dance between our freedom and God’s freedom, it is prayer which creates and deepens the space through which the Spirit works in our world. We can never force God to do anything, there is nothing automatic about prayer, but when we pray we invite God to enter and act in our lives. God never forces Godself upon us.

Joan Chittister writes:

Prayer…becomes a furnace in which every act of our lives is submitted to the heat and purifying process of the smelter’s fire so that our minds and our hearts, our ideas and our lives, come to be in sync, so that we are what we say we are, so that the prayers that pass our lips change our lives, so that God’s presence becomes palpable to us. Prayer brings us to burn off the dross of what clings to our souls like mildew and sets us free for deeper, richer, truer lives in which we become what we seek.[1]

That is the kind of prayer which will transform us into the Christ-like beings that we were created to be; prayer which becomes a furnace that burns away all that is not holy, all that gets in the way of us truly embodying God.

When Jesus was transfigured it was not just his face that shone with the Light, but his whole body. There is no split between our souls and our bodies – when we embody God we do so with our full humanity, body and soul. The way we care for our physical bodies, however strong, however weak they may be, when dedicated to God is also a form of prayer.

For many of us that is where we will first feel the effects of the smelter’s fire as we are challenged to let go of the habits of a lifetime, challenged to become as healthy as we can be. What that looks like will vary for each one of us. It’s not about worshipping the body beautiful but about loving God’s creation and doing the work we need to do to be able to fully embody the divine.

Forty days is enough time to change the neuro-pathways that keep us stuck in old habits. Forty days is enough time to learn new behavior. Forty days of intentional prayer and focus will draw us closer to God. Who knows, we may even be transformed, perhaps transfigured.

Why not become entirely fire?

[1] Joan Chittister, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, p. 131


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