Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Today, we also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
I have often wondered whether those planning the mission of the Enola Gay over Japan had any awareness that they had chosen to carry out this act of mass destruction on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I cannot imagine that they did.
There is an irony here.
The Transfiguration, much like the Feast of our Lord’s baptism (Theophany), is a feast of revelation. To my knowledge, these are the only two occasions recorded in the New Testament in which ordinary people heard the voice of the Father.
The Father thus “reveals” Himself in order to reveal Jesus as His Son, the One with whom He is pleased, the One we should listen to.
The question has been raised as to whether Jesus Himself changed in appearance on Mt. Tabor – or whether Peter, James and John were simply allowed for a moment to see what already was. I suspect, as in most things genuinely spiritual, it was a synergy – a synergy of God’s revealing and humanity’s seeking.
Few people have been permitted to see the Uncreated Light. Some have been saints; others not. But it somehow serves the Divine Purpose that the fullness of light, brighter than the human eye can normally see, is manifest on rare occasions.
It is as though the curtain that separates our side from the Other side has grown thin and tears, creating a rift in the fabric so the Light shines through. Not only does it not kill, despite the Old Testament fears that man would die if he saw God’s face, but it promises Life gloriously beyond life as we know it.
Herein, of course, lies the irony: that on August 6, 1945, a light too bright for human eyes appeared in our world by the will of man. It was a created light so bright that one who did not know better might mistake it for the Uncreated.
Approximately 80,000 people died instantly and the brightness of the light caused temporary or permanent blindness in some of the survivors. Countless numbers of people died from the radiation exposure in the years that followed and there are some still living who continue to suffer from the impact of the radiation.
The fullness of evil, the anti-Christ, revealed on the feast of the fullness of Christ.
Many have argued that the atomic bomb was the only way to bring an end to the horrors of World War II. Historians may analyze this as much as they want but I will never believe that sin saves us from sin.
There is only one Savior, the Sinless One, the God-man, Christ the Lord.
The times we are living in now are so frightening that it can be hard to feel hope.
A pandemic rages around us, killing hundreds of thousands around the world. As I previously wrote (here), I believe that such lethal viruses are the work of the evil one.
We are in an election year and the incumbent promotes an agenda of denial, so lacking in compassion that he can only say of the pandemic death rate, “it is what it is”.
Subgroups in the population, here and abroad, have returned to racial hatred and violence as a means of silencing protest.
So much that is so wrong has been allowed to continue with impunity that we no longer recognize the country we live in. The checks and balances designed to protect us have failed miserably.
Is there any hope?
It is hard to feel hope. Yet still I am hopeful.
When I share with you what brings me hope, you will likely think me foolish. That’s okay. Perhaps being a fool for God is the only option left.
One would think that the Scriptures, the eye witness accounts of the Transfiguration, the Father’s voice, the Resurrection, would be enough.
And, of course, they are – they always have been and always will be.
But sometimes I need something revealed to me, something so perfect and so personal that I cannot remain blind. I need an encounter that forces my eyes open to the hope inherent in a creation that could only emerge from an all-powerful and all-loving God.
This has happened before, many times, in fact. But, while memories persist, the sense of Wonder fades with time and the trials of life.
But today was a day of revealing, of transforming.
I was blessed to be able to participate in the Eucharist today for this holy Feast. Not only that, but I was permitted to proclaim God’s word.
During this time when I have sometimes felt half-dead inside, I suddenly felt fully alive again when proclaiming the Word.
It is completely different from reading Scripture privately or listening to a recording of it.
I pray for a moment before I do it because I know that I am nothing. Only if the Spirit is in me can I proclaim Him.
And so it was.
But that is not all.
It was a warm and sunny day and camera had come along for the ride, resting in my car’s trunk while my soul was being renewed.
We have had very few excursions this year. Retreats at the hermitage: not allowed. Trips to California or Minnesota, too risky. Even the garden has seemed strangely empty of its usual pollinating visitors.
But, in a tiny act of hope, I brought camera along, knowing that there just might be signs of life in an overgrown patch of land at the far end of the church parking lot.
At first, I saw nothing.
But I remembered that hope requires patience – as does the sighting of butterflies.
Soon I saw little flutterings. Skippers – o sweet skippers. Thank you, God.
I walked and waited some more and, from the corner of my eye, I saw something larger sailing past in the distance. A black swallowtail. I have never seen one in this location before – and it was so far away… could we receive its image at such a distance? (We could!)
I was preparing to leave when it occurred to me to check the milkweed growing in this untended land. A modest amount of common milkweed but always worth checking.
A leaf with a hole in it. Hmm… someone must be eating it. There are a number of insects who feed on milkweed. Could it be? They were so tiny they almost escaped my notice.
(Camera really outdid himself today, didn’t he?)
So I see a couple of butterflies and caterpillars and I’m ready to proclaim hope for the world?
I can only say with St. Paul, “accept me as a fool” (2 Corinthians, 11:16) 🙂
I admit it was the Monarch caterpillars that really put me over the top, that “something so perfect and so personal”, a revealing that unblinds me to what has always been.
It is not just that I have a soft spot for the Monarch butterfly, though we all know that I do. It is the “why” behind that soft spot.
It is their reality amidst all improbability, even apart from the toxic influence of humanity, that proclaims hope, that reminds me that there is a God so very real that nothing is too small for His love.
How can it be that the caterpillars of this one type of butterfly can only feed on one type of plant – and that their mothers manage to find just the right plant while gliding over vast expanses of overgrown land?
How is it that these tiny, soft, squishy little caterpillars ever live long enough (about 13 days) to eat enough to make it to the next stage (about 2000% increase in size)?
How does the mature caterpillar know how and when to create its own chrysalis, the chamber in which its metamorphosis occurs?
And how does that metamorphosis occur, such that the caterpillar’s body parts break down into undifferentiated cells that then re-shape themselves into a creature of totally different form and color than the one that formed the chrysalis?
Emerging at precisely the time of maturity, the new butterfly cannot fly for a couple of hours as its wings dry.
So many things could and sometimes do go wrong. How do they ever survive to adulthood?
And this does not even begin to consider the mystery of their migration. A tiny fragile creature flying over a thousand miles ending up exactly where it is supposed to go as winter approaches.
Such extravagant beauty. Such unnecessary grace. So perfectly planned.
Yes, fool that I am, I must say that it was all planned.
But couldn’t this little creature have just evolved, cells knocking into each other for billions of years, the fittest surviving, and so on?
One might question what survival advantage there could possibly be in such a demanding and precarious life cycle for a creature whose span of days is typically measured in weeks (though months for the south-bound migrators).
But, even more compelling is David Bentley Hart’s observation that chaos cannot create order unassisted.
And today, I was given a glimpse of the very orderly unfolding of a few very tiny lives among billions and billions of lives, large and small, all very much planned down to the last detail.
The hope lies not only in this beauty but in something even more mystical: that something (Someone) made me look – directing me to see what I needed to see in that moment.
Something so perfect and so personal that, in that moment, I could not deny Him. I drowned in His love.
August 6: the Uncreated Light juxtaposed with man’s created light, everlasting life juxtaposed with destruction and death.
One offers us living hope. The other extinguishes it.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)
Listen… the Word is all around us.