Thursday, August 06, 2015


Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  I have to confess, the transfiguration story sounds a lot like myth to me.  I struggle to read it - as the authors of the gospels obviously intended it to be read - as the report of a real event in the earthly history of the man Jesus of Nazareth.  How could I not struggle?  I am a product of post-Enlightenment western culture.  I have been trained to see material reality as absolutely opaque.  If there is a spiritual reality, it is totally masked by the empirical world, which is the only reality to which I have any access.  The transfiguration story, which records the obvious incursion of the spiritual into the physical world, dramatically contradicts this.

Some thoughts:

Clearly, the NT does not regard material (or physical) reality as opaque.  If it were opaque, how could it be the material part of the good creation of the one Creator God - the maker of all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible?  If my eyes have been trained to look at physical reality and then stop, I need to re-train them.  The Enlightenment attempted to put up walls between physical and spiritual, in order in the end to put the latter utterly beyond reach (hence Deism).  This separation is absolutely not the Biblical view.

On the other hand, I am not sure the NT regards material reality as transparent.  If it were transparent, how could it be real as physical matter?  It is interesting to hear from people at work in other cultures which do not share my cultural biases.  Often the spiritual realm is an everyday reality for people - in good and bad ways.  But I wonder whether there isn't a danger in this direction of collapsing the physical into the spiritual, such that the physical world is not allowed to have its own reality.  Moreover, it seems to me that the Biblical viewpoint is much more restrained in talking about the spiritual realm and its appearances and influences within the physical world.

I've been pondering another image: perhaps we should see material reality as translucent.  In other words, having its own shape and colour, but being open to the spiritual realm shining through - or casting a shadow.  Imagine a stained glass window, the appearance of which is transformed when the sun shines through it - or when someone walks past outside and temporarily blocks the light,  What if I could re-train my vision to look at physical reality as a medium which could at any time be illuminated by the glory of God - or shadowed by the demonic?  I wonder if that might help me to appreciate both physical and spiritual more - and I wonder if the transfiguration might be an interpretive key.

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