I’m lucky enough to be taking a class in New Testament at a local seminary. It has forced me, among other things, to read whole Gospel books from start to finish at single sittings. That has been revelatory. For one, it has awakened me to the narrative patterns and themes that the writers brought to telling these vital stories – something important to me as a literary scholar.
I have always wondered why the young man in the classic work of Russian spirituality, The Way of the Pilgrim, drops everything after hearing the Gospel. I get a hint of how that might have worked for him in the story of a young, beautiful, wealthy 18-year-old girl, who was engaged to be married, but gave all of that up.
I was thinking about her because the church remembers her feast on Sept 24. Her name was Thecla.
My father was born and raised in rural South Carolina in the Jim Crow South post World War I. He was part of a large, close-knit family in an established community of workers and farmers and teachers and preachers, business people and entrepreneurs. My father was a great storyteller and he told us how he and his brothers, friends, and cousins would go deer hunting every year. One day, when he was a young man, he went into the woods and saw a beautiful deer. He raised his rifle and aimed it. The deer turned and looked right at him.
I don’t know if anyone else in the Axia universe spends any time watching British gardening shows. If you do, you’ll understand how I got inspired to build a small labyrinth of raised beds in our backyard. We hadn’t budgeted for anything of the sort, so we spent most of the late winter and early spring scavenging the wood from far and wide, laying it out, cutting, fitting, and fastening all the pieces into place. Then I spent months filling them with soil! This year a relative offered me a dilapidated greenhouse. We traveled several hours to take it apart, load it into our long-suffering car, haul it home, and reconstruct it. Both projects have been a lot of work with many rewards. I’ve made several pounds of pickles, for one thing.
The Transfiguration is one of those beautiful feasts that can hold a strong personal message for many of us. Here’s a reflection from another of our bloggers, Asha Mathai, on what it meant to her as she reflected on it this year.
Be transformed into something more beautiful or elevated! How many times have I blamed my misdeeds on my humanity? “I’m only human.” I made my humanity an excuse as a reason to explain why I don’t do what God is asking me to do. But the Feast of the Transfiguration, which we celebrated on August 6, helped me see how Jesus shows me how to rise above that.
I went back to look at the Transfiguration in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Orthodox Christians are typically shocked when I tell them that my favorite feast is the Transfiguration of Christ. Most assume that Pascha should be my ultimate religious holiday. Certainly, the Resurrection of Christ is the feast of feasts, but in my broken humanness, I find that I connect more to the story of Transfiguration and the many meanings it holds for my daily life. The humanness of Peter, James, and John and their eagerness to find ways to connect with the sensorially overwhelming message of their beloved teacher in this transtemporal moment of encounter, call to me as someone who is perpetually seeking and hiding from the face of God.
Last week, a miracle happened.
It was Sunday Liturgy.
I had quickly cut several flowers from my garden, secured them in my hair, and rushed to church. I venerated the icons and laid the flowers around them. As I passed by the large cross with Christ, I noticed a cobweb. With my scarf, I gently removed the cobwebs from the feet of Jesus. Suddenly, a stranger in the congregation started weeping.
After church, I asked her what happened. She said that when I was wiping the feet of the cardboard Jesus the real Jesus had appeared to her.
Then I started weeping that “out of the mouth of babes Thou hast ordained praise.” (Psalm 8)