Peter Maher, Sydney priest and editor of The Swag, National Council of Priests of Australia Quarterly Magazine.
This article is inspired by the Acceptance Reflection on August 6, 2021
The Transfiguration of Jesus has many meanings.
The evangelists offer various suggestions such as the self-revelation of Jesus to the disciples, the prayer mountain, the revelation of God and the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.
However, there are some aspects of the story that link with narrative therapy and autobiography that might offer another interpretation.
Matthew Ch. 17/2-3 notes ‘His appearance changed from the inside out’ and ‘that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with Jesus’.
The context of this revelation is a deeper knowing of what is already inside, the person created by God through whom the Godself is to be seen in glory that the world might be transformed. The methodology is identified as ‘conversation’.
Prayer as Conversation
Like Peter, James and John, we, through the gospel, are invited into this conversation. This is
a prayer story that offers a particular method of prayer – conversation.
It is about creating a story that is inside us from our beginning but needs developing and articulating through writing and rewriting; dancing and re-dancing; singing and re-singing. Just as teenagers break free from their socialised identity by taking on new friends, language, fashion or social media, often to their families’ disapproval, so the transfiguration invites us into the conversation that might lead us to rewrite our story from the inside. It may be just as shocking or unfamiliar to our social, church or family groups.
When I accept the invitation into this conversation with new language, stories, songs and dance, like the disciples, I am terrified. I am on unfamiliar unsafe ground. Who will I be in the emerging developing story? Will I be able to grow into my inner true authentic self? What do I need to let go? Is it a safe space? Am I ready to step into the brave space of my emerging self? What are the risks? Will family, church, friends, social networks and work groups come with me; accept me; support me or still know me?
Writing new stories
The transfigured Jesus who invites us into the inner life story, writing new stories and embracing the emerging identity that is ‘me’, comes over to us and implores us not to be afraid. This is the process of entering the mystery so that the authentic unique self might be seen and the unique blessing that each of us is can be a source of transformation, in deed evangelisation, for the world.
The prayer method this story offers resists settling for the present story. Let’s not build three temples that institutionalise and stifle creativity. The true self emerges, develops and reflects the divine mystery precisely through a prayer process that embraces the shock of the new, that refuses to believe that the me being explored is exhausted or that the glory of God’s revelation in the world is completed. The prayer process goes on to continue to reveal the inner self so that we can find ourselves and the emerging mystery of who we are.
As the disciples move on, Jesus warns them not to tell anyone.
This is usually interpreted as that the full story of Jesus’ identity is only revealed in the resurrection. In the metaphor of story, it could mean that the story is never finished – we are in an on-going process of discovery and creativity that resists containment or finality.
Who knows what turn of our inner self story will be revealed as we adopt this prayer process? The diversity and surprise is the way God holds us carefully with generosity and invites us to keep writing our story as we engage in the full flourishing of our humanity.
As we discover and re-discover our identity, our goodness and our inner surprises, it requires bravery but also acceptance. As we find ourselves it will be difficult for others who have socialised us or have certain expectations and assumptions about us.
I have mentioned how this effects parents of emerging adult children and it can be traumatic for both parties. Friends, partner, education and vocational choices, as well as social, church and political preferences are part of the story.
These can be traumatic as a person diverges from the societal, family or church expectations. We see it particularly where things change in ways that offend dreams, beliefs, politics or morals.
Those who choose a partner who offends by race, culture or religion and people identifying as LGBTIQ+ can be under enormous pressure from their family, church and social groups that can cause emotional, spiritual and physical pain.
The transfiguration story encourages us to embrace this journey of writing the real me with courage because even when it disappoints some around us, it is the task of self-actualisation.
The transfiguration experience is the way to come into the full glory of God and for us to reflect that glory in the world. The methodology of prayer offered on the mountain and lived in the valleys requires us to resist the shame and judgement of others when our song demands we resist conforming.
More importantly, it affirms those engaging in this daring process of weaving identity, held by God and fashioned by a conversation within and with the law and prophets. The person we are becoming by this method is a gift to ourselves and a gift in God’s sight. Hold firm to it even if you do not fully understand it. This glorious mystery is precisely the revelation of the divine in us and in our world. This is the gift of transfiguration prayer and process.