For the thing about diamonds, it is said, is that in chemical reality they are just chunks of coal that kept on doing their jobs. And that is helpful to us when we think about the fullness of humanity transfigured in Jesus Christ. We are like those lumps of coal. We have the potential to be diamonds, but mostly we don't and can't see the job through to the end. In the Transfiguration Jesus shows us what we would be if we did. This is the principle of theosis, or God-becoming that has been part of the Orthodox teaching of the church from the beginning. You and I and the whole created order have the potential to be transfigured, to reveal to the world the glory of God just as Jesus did, but it is a process that even in the best of us like Moses is fitful and incomplete this side of eternity...
But how do we do this? How do we work with God for the ultimate transfiguration of ourselves and our world? For if there is one thing that we know from our own feeble attempts to change the smallest habit, it is that change is difficult. It requires dogged persistency and the refusal to give up. It requires constant vigilance and the humility to cope with failure and knock backs. It is about being knocked down twenty seven times and standing up for the twenty eighth. And if we try and do that in our own strength we will quickly run out of steam.
To do the work of transformation without the accompanying spirituality is to run on empty. So what is the spirituality that will sustain such a work? Brian McLaren writes that ‘spirituality’ is ‘a word that somehow captures the idea of a viable, sustainable, meaningful way of life.’ In other words it is not something ethereal, or detached from our every day, lump of coal- like concerns. It is a way of life to which we dedicate ourselves afresh in each moment. It is the set of jobs whereby coal is turned to diamond.
So what might be the markers of such a viable, sustainable, meaningful way of life? Some familiar words here I hope. For the first marker is surely to be 'focused in Christ.'. In the words of the old chorus, 'turn your eyes upon Jesus'. Unless we begin there, in the contemplation of the glory of God revealed in Christ, nothing much is going to be transfigured. Christ is constantly nudging and inviting us away to a quiet place to meet with Him, in order that He may pray in is, working away unseen to transform our dusty coal to diamond brilliance. So as we are going to hear again and again in our parish through these coming weeks of Lent, Just Pray. What matters here is not length or even depth - what matters is intention and consistency. All of us can find two minutes every day to sit, to breathe and to let God move in us. Do it while the kettle boils or before you brush your teeth. Do the job of turning up and let God do the rest in you.
Secondly we will need to be 'joyful and inclusive'. Joy is very important. That's why Jesus tells his disciples when they fast to wash their faces and not make a big deal about it. A viable, sustainable, meaningful spirituality is playful and held with lightness and the knowledge that just like a toddler we are going to fall over repeatedly, just like everyone else around us. This helps us to let go of our judgemental selves, forever putting ourselves and others down, and to include everyone in the circle of our love. For we are all in this together, none of us is any better than anyone else and we all need to help each other along. For our faith is radically inclusive as these stunning words by Desmond Tutu remind us, "if you are to be true partners with God in the transfiguration of His world and help bring this triumph of love over hatred... you must begin by understanding that as much as God loves you, God equally loves your enemies.’ Who are our enemies? - those whom we identify, however subtly, as 'not like us' - those who are different, those people and parts of ourselves that we want to shun and run away from. The job if we are to stick at it, is to see these as God sees them, and love them as we love our best selves.
And finally we need to be 'compassionate in witness'. In other words we need to put flesh on our prayers, to BE the change we want to see in our world and to embody that transfigured world just as often as we are given opportunity. Two examples. I was very struck this week by the story I heard on the radio of Mina Guli, the CEO of a global not for profit called Thirst, that works to draw attention to the looming global water shortage. Mina is running across seven deserts, in seven continents in seven weeks, including the Simpson Desert and Antartica, to as she says, 'Make saving water famous'. She is witnessing to the thing she considers most important in a most embodied way. The most telling thing she said was in response to the question ,'so are you an elite athlete?' 'No', she said,' I'm just like you, sitting and drinking your coffee and listening to this.' I'm just like you' - In other words I am just a piece of coal too, doing my job as best I can, till may be one day transfiguration for our planet may come. My second example was the group of about 68 that turned up on the corner of Margaret and Hume street on Friday night to say to our governments and leaders, Let Them Stay - let these refugee children and their families who have suffered such harm at our hands in Nauru remain in Australia. We came from all sides of politics and many of us from the Christian churches simply to witness to compassion. Jonathan and I were there on our day off, arranging the children's shoes and clothes given by compassionate souls in our community to spell out Let Them Stay - why? Because that's our every day spirituality. That is what it means to Just Pray - to pray with and for justice in all the mess of our everyday sooty coal like existence. For never under estimate what God can do with such small, viable, meaningful acts of spirituality in the transfiguration of the world.
So this week take the Transfiguration with you into your Lenten walk. Let it be the metaphor for God's work in you and in our world, and commit yourself afresh to a viable, sustainable, meaningful way of life, to the jobs that turn the coal of our earthly lives to immortal diamond. Amen
by Penny Jones, for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, 7 February 2016