Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
– Luke 9:28-36.
Today, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration, one of principal feasts of the liturgical year. Transfiguration means a change of form, metamorphosis. Yet, Jesus does not change into something he was not before and the disciples are not simply spectators but participants in this event.
- According to St. John of Damascus at the moment of transfiguration Christ “was not assuming something that he was not, nor changing into something which he was not, but manifesting what he was to his own disciples.”
- St Gregory Palamas says, “Jesus did not become what he was not already, but appeared to the disciples as he was, opening their eyes, giving sight to those who were blind.”
Thus, this story is not only about the transfiguration of Christ, but also the transformation, the transfiguration, of the disciples. The transfiguration shows us the archetypal beauty of our image. The glorified Christ is the model and prototype of who we are and who we are to become. The transfiguration reveals our origin and our telos – our completion and fullness. Like the disciples we are not simply spectators. We too participate in this event. So how does that happen? When was the last time you experienced transfiguration of yourself or another?
Often our reading of this story focuses on what is seen: the change in appearance of Jesus’ face, clothes that become dazzling white, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the glory of Christ, and the overshadowing cloud. These, no doubt, are central to the transfiguration. But I wonder if we sometimes emphasize the light of transfiguration to exclusion of the voice of transfiguration. We are looking but are we listening?
Listen is the only thing the disciples are told throughout this whole event. Listening is central to transfiguration. A voice came from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Yet Luke records no words or teaching from Jesus during this event. Jesus is silent. So it must be about more than words, instructions, and lessons. Listening always is. True listening is an interior quality, a way of being. It is more about the heart than the ears. And it is more about silence than words. Ultimately, listening is about presence.
The disciples are being told to be present, be open, be receptive to the one who is already and always present to you. Listening creates an opening through which the transfigured Christ enters and transforms us. Listening asks of us intention, attention, and letting go of the things that deafen us. Anything that destroys or limits presence is a form of deafness. The following are just a few examples:
- Holding on to the past – guilt, sins, regrets, disappointments, sorrow, and losses;
- Perfectionism, self-doubt, and self-hatred;
- Fear, anxiety, and the resulting need to control;
- Competition, comparison, expectation and judgments;
- Anger, resentment, and condemnation.
Whether it is listening to God, our spouses, friends, children, coworkers, the poor and needy, strangers or enemies listening will be some of the most difficult work we do. Listening is our spiritual practice. It opens us to healing, reconciliation, and union. Ultimately, listening takes us back to the Mount of Transfiguration.