Way back in the late aughts, I did a summer session of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Goodwin House, a tiered care retirement facility in Alexandria, VA. Our supervisor was a wonderful woman named Ruth Walsh. She was retired military, if my memory serves correctly, turned Episcopal priest. To say she had stories to tell would be an understatement. One of the gifts that Ruth gave me was the ability to meditate. Prior to CPE, and even much of my life since, my mind was so full of monkey chatter that I found it impossible to slow down and focus on any one thing. Given Ruth’s two careers, she knew something about monkey chatter, and through guided meditations, she helped me learn to slow the whirling dervishes in my mind down enough to see and hear and imagine things beyond myself.
I vividly remember one of our meditations, on the roof of Goodwin House East where Ruth invited us to sit down with Jesus and talk to him face-to-face. I had pictured Jesus before, one can’t help but do that along the way, but I’d never really thought about what it might look like to see him face-to-face. Much to my surprise, the Jesus I met that summer afternoon didn’t look like the smiling Jesus of a 1970s Playboy magazine or the blond haired, blue eyed Jesus of every western European artist ever. The Jesus I saw was straight out of a history channel documentary on the Shroud of Turin.
As I read through the well-worn story of the Transfiguration, I can’t help but be reminded of that odd image of Jesus and think about the many different ways in which Jesus is imagined in our mind’s eye. Some see him smiling, some see him as a Native American, and if you went to Virginia Seminary, you might even see him with six-toes.
Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured. He shone so dazzling white that Mark was forced to make a laundry reference, “such as no one on earth could bleach them.” They saw Jesus in his full divinity, standing atop a mountain with Moses and Elijah, conversing with God the Father. It was an awe-inspiring and terrifying moment, all wrapped up in one. It was their Epiphany, their moment of revelation. A top GHE, my revelation of Jesus was much less dramatic, but no less powerful. I had, for the first time ever, had the chance to talk to Jesus face-to-face. His image might have been shrouded in bad history, but his presence was no less real than on that mountain top two thousand years ago. And so, I wonder, how do you see Jesus?