Night is not forever. It is a prelude to day.
In the transfiguration, Jesus shook off the grime of daily night and showed apostles the daily freshness of God that dwelt deep within him. “Yes, I am God, the Ancient One,” he seemed to say in the First Reading, “the one that all heaven adores. But I am also that same loving God transformed into the roughness of your daily life. I am transfiguring here to show you the Glory within me, Glory that I will give quietly to those who will receive my Spirit—even within the smudge and smear of daily life.”
Alright, how does this transfiguration of Jesus touch our own souls?
I have decided to make an escape into poetry in order to answer. I am giving you a poem by the nineteenth century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, whom I have quoted many times in this space. [By the way, Hopkins said this poem should be read slowly, “strongly marking out the syllables.” And, just as a hint, read it out loud. Ready?]
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
What a wonderful revelation this is for us, it seems, especially in this very trying time for the world and for the Church.
Here is what I think the poet is saying:*
Stanza 1: Everything everywhere has brilliance within its existence because of God’s undetected presence, because of the greatness of God’s humble energy. Since that is so, then why do human beings fail to reckon with (“reck”) his divine authority (“his rod”)? In other words, why do we go through daily life ignoring the very presence that so deeply grounds us? Don’t we ourselves need to be transfigured?
Stanza 2: We humans detach ourselves from the beauty of the world. Our feet do not feel the soil, figuratively speaking, because we are busy “using” it to get what we want. Though we need the protection of shoes, yet, at the same time they impose a pragmatic layer between us and the earth. We have beaten the earth into submission. We live in a “bent world” now.
Stanza 3: Even so, there is a “freshness” you can observe if you will. If you regard with care the leaf, the robin, the beloved hand, even your own breathing, you may just sense the fresh and living spirit that dwells within them. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” is a statement of transfiguration. This is the Holy Spirit, hatching the world’s goodness into existence by settling onto it like a mother bird, preserving it with food and warmth, till it (and we) are strong enough.
Come and receive that warmth, Jesus says (Gospel).
You are invited to email a note to the author of this reflection:
Fr. John Foley, SJ