Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Today’s gospel reading is of the Transfiguration of Jesus. A few years ago I wrote an article on beauty which explored certain movements in a spirituality that takes seriously the aesthetic dimension: longing, awakening, seeing, cultivating, and creating. Those movements are all verbs, because our response to beauty prompts a dynamic process within us. (you can read the whole article here: “Responding to Beauty’s Call: The Shape of an Aesthetic Spirituality”)
In the section on seeing I reflect about how in the gospel story of the Transfiguration, beauty becomes a window onto the divine. The burning light that once appeared to Moses in the bush now radiates from Jesus himself: ‘his face shone like the sun’ (Matthew 17:2). For Gregory Palamas (a 14th c. Orthodox monk), it was the disciples who changed at the transfiguration, not Christ. Christ was transfigured:
… not by the addition of something he was not, but by the manifestation to his disciples of what he really was. He opened their eyes so that instead of being blind they could see.
Because their perception grew sharper, they were able to behold Christ as He truly is.
We will only see beauty, through contemplating a picture or ‘really seeing’ a flower, if we train ourselves to do so. To peer into a deeper reality is a metaphysical endeavour, requiring that we ‘see’ with more than merely our eyes, and that we sense with more than merely our natural senses.
Theologian Thomas Dubay writes:
(t)he full experience of a rose requires that we see with our minds the inner energy, the hidden origin, the radical form, and not simply the manifested colors, shapes, and proportions.
Experiencing a rose’s beauty (or a peony, as in the photo) involves more than merely our natural senses, more than our everyday powers of seeing.
The discipline of spiritual practice helps us to cultivate our ability to see below the surface of things, to have a transfigured vision of the world. The desert journey of Lent helps us to strip away what impedes our sight so that “the inner energy, the hidden origin, the radical form” begins to shine through.
What radiance awaits you today if you only take time to look and really see?