Transfiguration of the World Where You Are

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I am traveling in the latter part of this week, going home to see parents and in-laws (which for me means going to South Carolina). As I posted in answer to an earlier question, we cannot “change the world,” even if this is an eschatological goal of the Kingdom. Political movements speak of transforming the world – it is not speech that originates in the Church.

In the name of lofty projects, governments have historically done much evil (and Churches as well when they were behaving like governments). The loftiest project we should have as the Church is the service of God and of our fellow human beings. And that service should, under most circumstances, be as close to home as possible. The Roman Catholic Church refers to this as the principle of subsidiarity. I see it as simply trying to avoid the theological or spiritual sin of abstraction. Speaking about people halfway around the world is frequently to speak in abstractions. Not that we cannot serve them or should not serve them, but not in the abstract.

Being with family gets very non-abstract. Indeed, it is so non-abstract that it is rare that we get things right. Sharing with a cousin about the Orthodox faith can be just about as hard as it gets. 🙂

 But it also says much about the transfiguration of the world. Think of how small an area in which Jesus spent his entire earthly ministry. Other than the Flight into Egypt to avoid destruction as a child, his entire ministry was spent in Galillee and Judea (and parts of Samaria). It’s a very small corner of the world. But He truly transfigured people and things around Him.

“Of course,” someone might say, “that was Jesus.” But if the Master did one thing should His disciples do another? Even when we send missionaries, we send people and they live and pour out their lives in real places. Some of that came home to many of us this year with the voluntary death of Lynnette Hoppe in Albania. It was voluntary in that she (as an American missionary with cancer) could have chosen to remain in America with all of our technological “comfort measures.” She chose and was permitted to die as a missionary in Albania. There she taught a reborn Church what it looks like to die as a Christian. It was a transfiguration of a small part of Albania (as well as of many friends back home).

I served two years as a Hospice Chaplain, while I was being retrained for Orthodox ordination. I was part of the medical teams in some 250 deaths. There is very little around you that can be transformed when you come to that point in your life. The world gets smaller and smaller, often confined to a bed, and then only to certain hours or minutes in a day. Everything becomes precious. Each word spoken can take on huge meanings as the last word. Each gift given and received, a last gift.

I recall a patient who said he would gladly give his few remaining weeks for just 15 minutes walk in a wood. It never came to him, but I described my walks, observing the world around me in a way I normally never would. It was a transfiguring experience.

I taught the nurses I worked with to think of every dying patient as some at heaven’s gate, and to understand that they stood on Holy Ground. We would do well to think of all ground as Holy and to be present to it in such a way. We don’t and our lives fall short of meaning again and again.

I am passing through very familiar territory at the end of this week. Roads I’ve seen for years, landscapes of memory. Much wasted time and space.

I wrote several posts ago about the “smallness” of God in the Nativity. There also needs to be a smallness of me – a smallness of my life and attention – a refusal to be where I am not and a struggle to be where I am. It is where I am that transfiguration can take place.

Of course, in our electronic world, where I am is hard to define. Although I am learning to pray for people whom I only know by strange names (like Bigjolly, etc.). But God knows their real names and their needs and the details that make us what we are.

Coming home can be going to a particular place, but most especially it is coming to the particular place that is me (and more particularly me in Christ) and then reaching out to what can be touched and known and loved.

Thank God for the many persons who have reached out to me in the past few weeks and made my life more full and more truly what it was created to be. May it be a transfiguration that comes from God.

9 Responses to “Transfiguration of the World Where You Are”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    The photo is of my family and myself in our original “warehouse” church, during our first year of Orthodoxy. They are almost all bigger than me now (how much shorter is a man supposed to get?) And are transfiguring other corners of the world.

  2. Alan Says:

    Father,

    You wrote…

    There also needs to be a smallness of me – a smallness of my life and attention – a refusal to be where I am not and a struggle to be where I am. It is where I am that transfiguration can take place.

    Wow!!! That’s where my struggle lies. Kindly pray for me.

    Peace,

    Alan

  3. Juliana Says:

    I’ve never commented on your blog before, but I read it every day. I just wanted to tell you how much your writing has blessed me. I’m very thankful for your blog and I look forward to reading each post.

    Juliana

  4. Fatherstephen Says:

    Thank you Juliana. May God bless us all to do something good every day.

  5. alana juliana Says:

    Thanks Fr. Stephen,

    just the words I needed to read just now. Have been feeling discouraged about the smallness of my life today.

  6. Fatherstephen Says:

    No matter who we are the struggle is always here at hand rather than far away. But the God who carries us through the struggle is always here and now as well – not far away.

  7. Lucas Says:

    Fr. bless,

    Your post reminded me of the following passage from Bishop KALLISTOS’ “The Orthodox Way” (revised ed. p114) [[my additions]]

    ‘The “neptic” [[watchful]] man, then, is gathered into the here and the now. He is the one who seizes the kairos, the decisive moment of opportunity. God, so C. S. Lewis remarks in “The Screwtape Letters,” wants men to attend chifly to two things: “to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they [[mankind]] call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.”‘

    That whole passage blew me out of my armchair when I first read it and thought that it related nicely to your post (at least inasmuch as it touches time as your post touches space).

    pray for me, a sinner.
    Lucas

  8. Mick Says:

    Father,

    Your post reminded me of Fr. Zossima’s conversation with the “lady of little faith” in The Brothers Karamazov. The lady asks how she can gain back the faith she has lost, so Fr. Z tells her to love her neighbor and she will come to see the immortality of his soul. If memory serves correctly, she mentions that she had thought of doing “something like that;” which, to her, meant going off to feed the hungry in a place far away, pursuing the salvation of humanity (but not her next door neighbor). Fr. Z warns her that what she is talking about is “love in dreams” and that she must be prepared for the “harsh and dreadful thing” of “love in action,” which means, among other things, loving the neighbor in her present community.

    Indeed, love in abstraction/love in dreams is mostly love on our own terms, which is not love at all. Loving the community that surrounds us is not romantic or convenient; rather, it is “harsh and dreadful,” but it is what transfigures.

    In Christ,
    Mick

  9. Fatherstephen Says:

    Mick and Lucas,

    Thanks for heads-up comparisons. These men are giants, and my small writing occasionally sees something similar. God is good.

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