Transfigured by Love


What is one thing that brings you joy every time you see it? While you’re thinking of your answer, I’ll tell you one instance for me. My mom had these two beautiful bowls that she bought at Orcas Island Pottery. The glazing was a combination of marbled blue and green and white. When she died and a bunch of us were packing up her apartment, I got rid of a lot of things, but those two bowls got packed into a box and put into storage until I could move into my house, which was under construction. By that time, so many things had been in storage for so long that I could no longer remember what all was in the boxes, so unpacking them was like Christmas morning. “Oh, this!” “Oh, this!” It was delightful to see once again these things that I loved. And here came these two bowls. I have always loved them. Someone made each one of them by hand on a beautiful San Juan Island. And they make me think of my mom. I use them all the time, and I feel joy every time I see them. There is something about them that embodies love, for me.


What about for you? Is there something that brings you joy every time you see it? [Input.]


There can be days when we are open to joy and delight and love at every turn. Perhaps it’s because you slept a solid eight hours and feel great. Or the biopsy came back negative and you realize what a great team of people you have who were prepared to walk that journey with you but now you all get to relax and just enjoy each other. Or you took the first step in addressing something that has burdened you for a long time—a backlog on your to-do list, or you joined a twelve-step group or found a therapist or got out of that toxic relationship or paid off that debt, and you’re feeling lighter and hopeful, like the world is possible again. Or, like Gene Kelly’s character in Singin’ in the Rain, you’ve fallen in love and even a rainstorm can’t dampen your spirits, so you dance exuberantly in the streets at midnight.


So much love, so much joy, so much delight! We hear it in Billy Collins’s poem “Aimless Love,” where he falls in love with the wren and the dead mouse, the bowl of broth, 

the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.


Think of the frame of mind you would have to be in to fall in love so easily, so aimlessly. Such gratitude, such conviction that the world is full of goodness, even when the wren’s nest is too close to the water, or the cat has killed the mouse. As one commentary put it, this is


A love more like God’s love: agape, the ancient Greeks called it, a love without conditions, without quid pro quo. And at the same time, a love that’s less solemn-and-serious and more light-and-lyrical. A love that exuberantly takes it all in. A love that circulates, falling through and for the world, from the lakeshore to the bar of soap — and so puts a new, whimsical spin on that ancient, beautiful idea: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love“ (1 John 4:8). [“Aimless Love,” commentary at]


What would it take for us to love the world with such abandon? The bowl of cereal, the lettuce seeds pushing up through the dirt, the clouds at sunrise, the bus driver who says hello, the dog who chases the ball. We could develop a spiritual practice of recognizing love anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps you recall the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge realizes that he’s been given a chance to turn his life around. He gets dressed and goes out to walk the streets on Christmas Day. He questions beggars, smiles at people, goes to church, watches what everyone is doing, and realizes that everything can bring him pleasure. For most of his adult life, he has closed himself off to this joy through his meanness and miserliness. Only after his encounters with the ghosts of Christmas, when he knows that he has been given a second chance, can he open himself to a frame of abundance, generosity, gratitude, and love.


For us to be transfigured by love, we can practice slowing down, learning to see it all around us, especially in nature. In Japan there is something called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. In her book Church of the Wild, Victoria Loorz writes,


[T]he act of immersing yourself in a forest, in the desert, or in the grass in your neighborhood park leads to lower blood pressure, calmer nerves, and a more focused mind. It is good that people are waking up to the benefits of connecting with nature for their own health and well-being. But it is more than that. The living world is where we can be opened up in receptivity to a divine encounter. There is an invitation here, offered to all of us: in order to listen for the holy, to engage in intimate conversation with the sacred, one goes into the wilderness. [Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us into the Sacred (Minneaplos: Broadleaf Books, 2021), 65.]


Later she describes a series of encounters with deer where she and the deer just stay still and stare at each other. She feels herself to be in a thin space, where the presence of the holy is especially noticeable.


Loorz notes that many of the key encounters with the Holy in the Bible take place in the wilderness. Think Moses and the burning bush, or Moses on Mt. Sinai. Elijah, fleeing from his tormentors, hides in a cave high on a mountain and has a conversation there with God. John the Baptist lives out in the wilderness and baptizes people not in the Temple in Jerusalem but in the River Jordan. Jesus is born in a stable, which in those days may have been more like a cave, and the first to hear about it are the shepherds out in the fields. Jacob lies down to sleep and dreams of a stairway to heaven. He wakes up and says, “God is in this place, and I didn’t even know it!”


So Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, ditches the crowds that have been mobbing him all through the Gospel of Mark, and together just the four of them go up the mountain. Mark sets this part of the story north of the Sea of Galilee, so this may be Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Syro-Palestine. I’ve been looking at Google Maps photos of Mount Hermon. It looks like desert in the summer and snowy in the winter, with 360-degree views for miles and miles. One could feel timeless up there, removed from all the day-to-day details down in the valley.


It is here that Jesus has this mystical union with Moses, Elijah, and God. Moses, to whom God gave the Law of Torah. Elijah, whom God made a prophet. Both of them had their mountaintop moments, and now here they are with Jesus in a rare meeting of God’s messengers across time and space. And God’s message to the three disciples there, who are terrified out of their minds, is that this is God’s beloved son. Beloved. And Peter, James, and John have their eyes opened to see the transfiguring power of this love in Jesus’ glowing state.


God’s love is present to us throughout time and space, if we can but open ourselves to it all around us. Perhaps we can perceive it in the bowl, the rain on the window, the wren. Or we encounter it with a deer in a meadow. Or we climb to a mountaintop and know ourselves to be beloved and part of the whole beloved landscape throughout all eternity.


Jesus’ transfiguration occurs at the center of the Gospel of Mark. It is the high point, the peak, the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry. In previous chapters he has been baptized, he has been gathering disciples, casting out demons, building his ministry of teaching and healing throughout Galilee. He is mobbed constantly by people seeking his wisdom and healing power. After this, his path heads toward Jerusalem, toward assassination and the tomb. This mountaintop moment is the pivot between what came before and what comes next. And it gives us a frame of love and holiness. No matter what trials come, Jesus is God’s beloved child.


And so are we. No matter what challenges we face, we are God’s beloved children. How’s that for a Valentine? God says, “I love you, more than you can possibly take in.” And we are invited to practice trying to take it in, recognizing God’s love all around us, all the time: in the teacup, the raindrops glistening on a leaf, the fruits and nuts set out on the table, the doe in the meadow.


Practice finding love everywhere. Be transfigured by that love. And then take it down from the mountain and share it. With everyone. Amen. 

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