It starts in Advent when we hear the prophesy of the “people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Christ’s birth is heralded by both the shining Star of Bethlehem and the glory of the heavenly hosts. Then throughout the season of Epiphany, the metaphor of light is used to talk about Jesus and his ministry is anything but subtle as all that has been promised is fulfilled. Jesus is the “light to the nations,” as well as the lamp not hidden under the bushel basket. The climax and culmination of this season is the story of the Transfiguration, which we hear each year on the Last Sunday of Epiphany, when Jesus is transformed before three of his disciples and “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Matthew 17:2) It is an awesome and profound event which leaves Peter, James and John a bit stunned.
I was intrigued to learn that some celebrities and other notables wear sunglasses not only because they look “cool,” but also to protect their eyes from the spotlights on stage and paparazzi camera flashes. While most of us don’t have the problem of celebrity, we can attest to the annoying feeling of seeing too many camera flashes when spots appear before our eyes. It is distracting at best and physically painful at worst. I can’t imagine what my eyes would have felt like attempting to look at the transfigured Christ. I can believe that it could have caused at least momentary physical blindness, as well as a bit of spiritual blindness. By that I mean that the event would have been so awe-some that it would not have made sense in that moment. In fact, the Transfiguration doesn’t make much sense to the disciples, nor do they have much time to process it. They are immediately told that they are not to tell anyone about what they just witnessed until after the Resurrection.
We are blest with almost 2000 years of hindsight to comprehend and interpret this story that the disciples did not have. I am sure the Transfiguration made a lot more sense to them after the Resurrection, but they didn’t have the knowledge while it was happening. Perhaps it was because of their lack of understanding that Jesus didn’t want them to talk about it because they really couldn’t understand it in that moment.
Have you ever had an experience that you needed time to really comprehend what happened? It could be a positive event, like a birth or an achievement, or a difficult one, like a death or accident. Regardless, while our minds capture the details of what happened, it takes a while for it all to coalesce into a meaningful experience. And sometimes it takes another event for the first experience to be truly understood. For me, this is true about the death of my parents. Each experience was blinding in the moment, but slowly they have taught me lessons of love and forgiveness.
It takes time to be “enlightened.” It is interesting that in the Buddhist tradition, enlightenment is the ultimate goal. I believe, however, that God reveals God’s self (the Light) to us in wonderful and awesome ways throughout our lives, and our faith enables us to begin to make sense of how it all comes together. It is a reflective process, not a goal; a way of life rather than a destination.
As we come to the end of this “Season of Light,” take a moment to consider the flashes of light in your life. When were they? Did you learn something from them? How have they impacted your faith journey? Is there a lesson that you need to take with you into the season of Lent and its opportunity of reflection? Identifying these moments are just as important as making the time to learn from them. It also helps us to be more aware of them the next time they happen.
May you always know and feel the Light of Christ guiding you on your journey.