‘The dearest freshness deep down things’
We live in a post-Enlightenment time in which many of us (at least in the so-called ‘developed’ West) have undergone what sociologist Max Weber refers to as the “disenchantment” of the world. As a result we have lost a sense of wonder, a sense of ‘enchantment’ at the possibilities present in creation.
We Christians, however, worship a God that took on the material (the incarnation). The Spirit of the Risen Jesus is constantly calling us to wonder at the “dearest freshness deep down things”. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
The Feast of the Transfiguration each year reminds us of this ‘freshness’— of God’s divine, enchanting presence shining all around us.
So, what exactly happened on the mountain of Tabor? The uncreated Light, the Cloud of Unknowing, the overwhelming fear, the desire to cling to the moment—all these suggest the classic experience of an encounter with the Holy, with the Divine. Whatever else might be said, the disciples came face to face with the mystery of God in Jesus Christ.
And what was their reaction? In the accounts of Christ’s Transfiguration we are told that Peter offers to make three dwellings: one each for Christ, Moses and Elijah, whom Peter, John and James have witnessed, gathered on top of the mount. It is easy for us to sneer at the naiveté of Peter’s request: ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah …’
Peter signifies all of us, as we try vainly to capture and control our experience of Jesus.
But Jesus will have none of temptation to stay still and stay where we are.
Instead Jesus then and now sends all his disciples down the mountain—on ‘mission’—to ‘see’ the Lord amidst his people. This is ongoing mission here in Parramatta.
There is a wonderful story told by Trappist monk Thomas Merton about a profound ‘transfiguration’ experience he had one day. The famous Trappist monk recalled, that on 18 March 1958, he was standing at a street corner in downtown Louisville. It was an ordinary day and ordinary people were going about their business.
But as he looked at them, they suddenly changed.
He wrote: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved these people … I saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. To me, they seemed to be walking around shining like the sun.”
He went on to wonder what the world would be like if we could all see each other as we really are. He muses: “I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other!” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) For Jesus lives in each one of us especially the poor and the suffering.
Perhaps, Merton had very special moments of Mount Tabor ‘ecstatic visions’ of the holy, at his monastery Gethsemani Abbey Louisville, in his prayerful solitude.
But his Louisville epiphany reminds us that we ‘ordinary mystics’ are called to see Jesus transfigured in unlikely places and in unlikely people. “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
—Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ (1877)
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.