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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

352: Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them

Day 352: Wednesday March 3rd, 2021

Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them

Transfiguration or Metamorphosis

by Geoff Wood

Right in the middle of Mark’s Gospel (chapter 9) we are confronted with his transfiguration account – where Jesus upon a mountain top becomes resplendent and converses with Moses and Elijah, the pillars of our Hebrew tradition - and where a divine voice supportive of Jesus shakes up Peter, James and John.

Up until now we have been moving through a thoroughly earthbound narration with Jesus healing sick people or telling parables or feeding crowds within an increasingly hostile environment. And now comes this bedazzling interruption of his story?

No doubt the early Christian community – amid the everyday and even tragic story of Jesus – wanted to emphasize that Jesus was more than an everyday celebrity. It wanted to show how Jesus, for all his condemnation by the authorities of his day, was the true heir to God’s biblical interventions in this world – via people like Moses and Elijah - and that the voice that launched this world into being was itself the source of Jesus’ mission and power. And so, they say, “Let’s take him up a mountain, out of the ordinary world of Galilee and Judea, and let the splendor of his being and Gospel shine forth.”

In presenting this scene, of course, the early Christian community did what human beings have been doing ever since recorded time. It went vertical! We have a tendency to do that – even in popular lyrics like: Fly me to the moon / Let me play among the stars / Let me see what spring is like / On Jupiter and Mars // Fill my heart with song / And let me sing for ever more / You are all I long for / All I worship and adore . . .

Maybe because we are vertically built, operating out of our topmost skulls – inclined to look down on things, condescending as it were – we tend to locate a “real” world upward – in mythical ways via Sun and Moon and stars as gods controlling our destiny or in philosophical ways as did Plato in drawing us away from this “shadowy, imperfect, changeable” earthbound world toward a “real” world of Ideas – ideal patterns or blueprints from which earthly things (like us) are but reflections that fade away. Indeed, we human beings seem compelled to take “head trips” to escape the gravity that ties us down – as today by way of mathematics – as fleshless as can be!

The verticality of today’s reading certainly took hold on Christian tradition. As Christendom grew, images of Jesus as elevated – in mosaics – upon the inner dome of vast cathedrals perpetuated his transfiguration. I hesitate to mention the image of “Touchdown Jesus” that overlooks Notre Dame’s football sanctuary.

But let’s be thankful that today’s Gospel pulls the plug on the mountain top display – when it finally says:

Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. For it’s the down to earth Jesus of compassion and vision and suffering and self sacrifice that we value – and not so much his mountain top image.

Except that the mountain top image does reveal something else important. Even as it displays Jesus for what he and his Gospel really are in a graphic, sublime way, it also reveals what each of us is and can be - as more sublime than we realize – and capable of miracles.


The Lanyard


The other day I was ricocheting slowly

off the blue walls of this room,

moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,

from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,

when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary

where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist

could send one into the past more suddenly—

a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp

by a deep Adirondack lake

learning how to braid long thin plastic strips

into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard

or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,

but that did not keep me from crossing

strand over strand again and again

until I had made a boxy

red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,

and I gave her a lanyard.

She nursed me in many a sick room,

lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,

laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,

and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,

and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,

and here is clothing and a good education.

And here is your lanyard, I replied,

which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,

strong legs, bones and teeth,

and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,

and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now,

is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,

but the rueful admission that when she took

the two-tone lanyard from my hand,

I was as sure as a boy could be

that this useless, worthless thing I wove

out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

A note about Irene and Tom:

Irene went to the Emergency Room at Kaiser on Monday where they drained fluid from her lung. She is resting now at home with Tom, awaiting their sons to arrive.

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