Transfigurations: Lent Week 2

The Second Week of Lent is upon us and “it’s good that we are here,” according to Peter after experiencing the Transfiguration. What an understatement! Kind of like saying “I enjoyed it” after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I always wonder what lingered in the memories of Peter, James, and John after that incredible vision of Elijah, Moses, and the resurrected Christ. Surely keeping it a secret was a joke. That unexpected glimpse into the spiritual realm must have permanently altered their vision, just like any authentic experience of the divine, even the smallest of transfigurations.

On cue every spring at the beginning of March, the bare wisteria vine that grows outside my kitchen window suddenly blooms with delicate, fragrant, and liturgically correct purple blooms. Every year I am transfixed watching the flowers multiply at an astonishing pace. I planted that vine myself many years ago so that I would have something to gaze at while I cooked and did the dishes. Despite the awareness that spring is near, that the dead-looking vine is teeming with life, I am always startled when these sweet blossoms beckon me outside to stand agog at this ordinary but marvelous transfiguration.

Experiences of the divine are also revealed in the lives of those around me. I communicate by text almost daily with my close friend, Fr. Jim Ries. He recently retired as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish in San Clemente. Now he lives in Oceanside, close to San Luis Rey Mission, in a mobile home he completely remodeled to accommodate his disabilities. Fr. Jim has a degenerative nerve disease called “Charcot-Marie-Tooth” and is permanently confined to a wheelchair. Friends for many years, I remember when he nimbly walked and rode a bike, discerned his vocation, attended seminary, and his ordination to the priesthood. We remained close during all of his assignments as a servant priest and pastor in the Diocese of Orange. Jim has spent nearly every holiday with my family, a “little brother” to me, an “uncle” to my kids, a sports-on-TV sidekick with my husband, a jokester at the dinner table with my extended family friends. All along, Jim knew what was in store, that his body would slowly decline, but that never deterred him from living abundantly.

Fr. Jim sees moments of transfiguration even in his own sufferings, of which there have been many. About two weeks ago, right in time for Lent, he fell and broke his leg, a major setback for him. While I screamed at God over the unfairness, Fr. Jim accepted the week-long hospital stay and many months ahead of physical therapy with his usual calm good nature and courage. He revels in the little victories of sleeping through the night and watching televised sports from his recliner now that he is back at home. He says he is offering up his sufferings, picking up his cross, and following Jesus for the salvation of the world.

I marvel at Jim’s resilience and quiet piety. Even though I have learned to see transfiguration in the ordinariness of a spring day, like my blooming wisteria vine, I am hard-pressed when it comes to suffering. I still have a lot to learn about the Paschal Mystery although I am repeatedly transfigured by its truth and beauty, drawn into deep caverns of meaning, and comforted by the cycles of renewal it promises.

Visions of the dazzling white garments of Jesus in transfigured moments come and go quickly for most of us ordinary pilgrims on the spiritual journey. Yet we can anchor these little manifestations in our memories and resolve to stay awake enough to see more. At the oddest moments, when the heart surges with gratitude, Peter’s voice may arise and remind us that indeed, “it’s good that we are here.” Then, like the apostles, we descend the mountain to spread that good news.

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