Transfiguration Sunday – Year C
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Let us pray: O God, we move through life, watching, waiting and hoping for moments when we can stand in the midst of your glory. But we miss so many opportunities to recognise that you are all around us all the time. May these words help us to find glory in the everyday, and wonder in the commonplace. Amen.
Perhaps it has always been the case – and there are some indications that this is so – but it also seems that the separation of spirituality from religion has taken on more prominence in recent years. There was an issue of the United Church Observer last year with a front cover proclaiming a phrase that has become a cliché for the times – namely: I'm spiritual but I'm not religious. Easily over the past decade there have been many, many occasions when commentators have expressed the sentiment that spirituality is on the rise. All of this occurs as church membership and attendance in mainline denominations is showing a much different trend. If indeed spirituality is increasing in the general population it clearly is not getting expressed in a way that in past decades has been the default forum for spiritual expression – a church community.
I've witnessed these trends in my own work. Clearly there are indications of a strong spiritual presence in people that I know. Yellowknife is a young community, and my recent involvement in some community activities have pointed out to me that there is a spiritual underpinning to the world view expressed by many people in a generation younger than me. These are not church people, but they are people with a strong sense that we are placed on this earth for a greater purpose than just our own selfish wants and needs. There is definitely a spirituality underlying their work and interests. I also know that this same generation and others that follow them are missing something that organised religion has provided in older times. While many people are tuned into their spiritual selves, I've also noticed that there are many people who have trouble naming their spiritual selves. I know it's there – I believe that human beings are unalterably, holistically, comprised of both the physical and spiritual, but without the skills and tools to name and recognise the spiritual aspect of life, many people have trouble describing the role that spirituality plays in their life journey. While organised religion has a lot of baggage attached to it – both good and bad – one thing it does offer is a context for connecting with the spiritual part of living. Worship is a time in the week when we are drawn to thinking and feeling a connection beyond ourselves – which is one aspect of the spiritual life.
In recent weeks, in baptism and marriage preparation sessions, I've found myself exploring with people this idea of spirituality, hoping in the conversations we've had to draw out some of the ways in which spirituality is expressed, and thereby hopefully make a connection with what I consider to be a vital aspect of life. When times are tough it is our spiritual being which helps us to cope. Whether or not it is through organised religion or not, it is important for us to be in touch with our spiritual selves – always, but especially when we are drawn to ask the questions that can only be answered through a faith connection.
Of course I think that a church community lays important groundwork in establishing and discovering our spirituality. I wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing if I did not think this is so. But I also stand at the intersection of the greater call – to be in touch with God in whatever ways that can and does happen – and the call to be the church as an expression of our call to follow God. Do we need the church to find and express our spirituality? “No, but it sure helps” - would be the way I answer that question. And just because we are spiritual beings doesn't mean that everyone is particularly skilled at understanding what about them is guided and directed by their spiritual understandings. Again that is where the church can be a helpful presence – for it offers both a story and a basis for the spiritual questions of life.
I think if we all took some time I am sure we could think of moments or occasions that I call the “whoa” moments. Times when we just knew that something significant was happening – perhaps they were times of unexpected insight, or cosmological awareness, perhaps a time when we recognised how small we are in the context of the universe or how large we can be when simple actions can have profound and lasting effect. Those, in my understanding are spiritual moments – moments when we get a glimpse of the spiritual side of living. My celtic ancestors called them “thin places” - places where the spirit world and the physical world were so close to each other that you could almost see or touch the other.
But our faith also tells us that God is with us always – in all times and places, in the moments when we are waiting impatiently for a traffic light to turn green, or as in this past week, when the traffic light out here at 53rd street wasn't working and we were waiting in Yellowknife's short-lived grid lock for the bylaw officer to direct us through the intersection! Peter, James and John experienced one of those “whoa” moments – as did Moses. But Paul reminds us that the “whoa” moments are only glimpses of what is an everyday experience – namely that God is present always in Christ – the presence we know as the Holy Spirit – in human expression in the form of Jesus who lives in us as we live the call to the body of Christ in the world.
I think many people go through life looking for the “whoa” moments as part of their search for spirituality. I think those moments are there for us to experience, but they are but examples of moments that can always be drawn if we only take time to stop and consider the presence of the spirit in our lives in the midst of the “ho hum” - when we're cleaning the bathroom, or trying to find something for supper in the fridge or freezer. The point I'm trying to make and I'm reminding myself of it as much as anyone else, is that the “whoa” moments and the “ho hum” moments have but a whisper of difference between them.
Transfiguration Sunday itself stands at an interesting intersection – for it marks the end of the Season after Epiphany – a time when we are called to consider the coming of light – metaphorically of course for it follows the season of celebrating the birth of Jesus – but also physically because it follows the winter solstice when for northern hemisphere people at least the light is coming back to our days. It also marks the Sunday before the season of Lent – a season which has commonly been interpreted as a season of darkness – not necessarily a brooding darkness, but a darkness that invites us to look deep inside the dark recesses of our lives. But just as the “whoa” moments and the “ho hum” moments are millimetres apart if we could measure life that way, so are the darkness of Lent and the light of Epiphany. The journey to the dark recesses of our lives that has been part of the Lenten journey is also one just waiting for the light of insight and connection with God. It is all about closeness and connection. Epiphany and Lent are not opposite ends of a spectrum of seasons. They are side by side – close enough to touch and inform each other. Perhaps we should see them as on a circle of experience. If you travel as far as possible from one point along a circle, you end up being right beside where you started.
When Peter, James and John, along with Jesus had the “whoa” moment on the mountaintop they wanted to stay there and bask in the glory, the light and the closeness of the spirit. But it couldn't last – not because those moments are special, but because they can be found everywhere in life. Those connections with the spirit are present in all places and in all times. That's the message of today – not looking for something special but seeing the special in all things. Amen.