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Transfiguration – Then and Now

Patheos.com — August 6, 2019: 

A. The Real Meaning of Thabor

The purpose of the gospels in writing of the transfiguration was to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. Traditionally, these scriptures were divided into three sections – the acronym ‘TaNaKh’ was used to represent them. “T” stood for Torah, the first five books of the bible, ascribed to Moses and known as “The Law.” “N” stood for Nebiim or “the prophetic books.” And “K” stood for Ketuviim or “writings” (the wisdom literature – psalms, Job, Ruth etc.) The Pharisees accepted all three parts as inspired, but the priestly caste, the Sadducees, only accepted Torah and Nebiim. Moses was the archetype of Torah; and Elijah stood for the prophets. So, the evangelists wanted to show that Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah was the fulfillment of both streams of revelation. Moreover, God had traditionally appeared on mountain tops – Sinai in the case of Moses and Horeb in the case of Elijah (some scholars claim Sinai and Horeb were the same mountain), so the evangelists situate this event on Mount Thabor. In the transfiguration scene also, God appears and singles out Jesus as “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”  So, whatever else is true, this was a literary device to make a strong case for the new covenant – the Jesus movement.

But how did the three disciples – or Jesus for that matter – recognize Moses or Elijah? Photography was 1,800 years in the future and there were no graven or visual representations of either man available. Was it like an AA meeting where each one said, “Hi, my name is Moses; I’m an alcoholic…” “Hi, Moses!” “Hi, my name is Elijah; I’m an alcoholic.” “Hi, Elijah!” “Hi, my name is Jesus; I once turned water into wine.” “Hi, Jesus!”  There is another possibility. How often have you had a dream in which you’re visiting your childhood home, but in the dream it’s a totally different house? Yet, you know it’s the old homestead. The same thing happens with visions; there is a ‘knowing’ which is not based on sensory or historical information.

So, then, what actually happened on Mount Thabor? Jesus’ encounter with Moses and Elijah was a vision created and projected by Jesus himself as he sought to finalize his Earth mission. I believe the following is what Thabor was really about. Firstly, Jesus was dipping into the Akashic Records in order to familiarize himself with the history and mythology of his Jewish heritage. Secondly, he did it with such intensity that the disciples also experienced it. It is the equivalent of what is now being recorded as ‘Shared Death Experiences (SDE’s) where people present at the bedside of a dying person, share in the experience of angelic beings, heavenly music, and already-deceased relatives coming to assist in the transition of the dying one. Thirdly, it was the final ‘pep talk’ to prepare Jesus for the horrific week that lay ahead – in which he would be sold for thirty pieces of silver, abandoned by his disciples, tried by the high priest for blasphemy and by the Romans for insurgency; then scourged and crucified. And, finally, it was the wedding of the mystical meaning of Moses, the challenge of the prophets and the radical upgrade of religion from its violently-sectarian origins to global union with the divine.

B. Transfiguration for Our Times

1. God as a Projection

How often has religion showcased a God who blessed, nay mandated, genocide, prejudice and inquisition both within and between communities? In truth, God has no other face than ours; God has no other personality than the human masks we project on to him. We have largely scripted the drama of God’s relationship with planet Earth and fed him his lines. Mostly, we have assigned him the role of a cosmic psychopath, believed our own myth and then made it the basis of our relationships with other communities. Alongside real mystics and genuine prophets, every religion has produced dour theologians and false prophets who have steeped us in fear and encouraged us to wipe out the heretics/infidels/pagans/gentiles – choose your favorite dismissive term.

2. God is a Verb

Somebody famously said, “God is not a noun, he is a verb.” I would add that God is a verb not in the past or even present tense but in the future tense. You can only use the phrase, “God was…”  when speaking of the God of history. And you can only use the phrase, “God is…”  when speaking of our current misunderstanding. But we must use the phrase, “God will be…”  as we continue to grow towards enlightenment and co-create God’s future. When in Exodus 3:14 God introduced himself to Moses, the scripture has God saying, “Ehiye ashir ehiye”  which is NOT a present tense, rather it translates as, “I will be who I will be.”

I believe that the true meaning of the Blessed Trinity is the God who was, who is and who will be. A prayer I learned as a child – which is known as the “Glory be to the Father” – ends with the phrase, “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end.”  The problem is that we interpret this as a static God who never changes. It’s exactly the opposite: God is the One who constantly changes. I am speaking here of God’s immanence not his transcendence, about which we can say nothing.

3. The God of the Past and the Present

In each religion, theology has tried, and continues to try, to understand and invent its own history, its own destiny and its own relationship with God. Fundamentalism attempts to freeze-frame God at a time when our basic relationship with him was based on fear. For the most part, religions have invented a God who is a distant, demanding deity, a lawmaker, a law giver, a law enforcer and a vindictive punisher of each and any infraction; a God who is happy to hand out eternal damnation for momentary lapses. He has long since outlived his usefulness. I hope Nietzsche was correct when he wrote this God’s obituary; and I believe Meister Eckhart had said the same thing several hundred years before, “I pray daily to God to rid me of God.”

4. The God of the Future

Mythology is the archived wisdom of a culture. It is not meant to be factual or historical but, rather, inspirational and transformative. But, and this is vitally important, each myth has a shelf life, a ‘sell before’ date which warns us that consuming its outdated message can be injurious or even fatal. That is certainly true of the monotheistic myth at the core of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a myth that continues to glorify a God who wiped out almost all of creation, in a rage-orchestrated global flood, who mandated genocide, blessed the enslavement of Africans, sanctioned crusades and inquisitions, is pleased by fundamentalist-fed sectarian violence and continues to damn most of the world’s population to the eternal flames of hell.

How can we possibly love this psychopath or expect to create world peace as long as that is our myth? There is a real God,  an ultimate loving, forgiving, understanding Source whom we need to liberate from this violent, fear-based projection.

Here are some considerations as we fashion this new myth. While God’s transcendence and ultimate nature is an ineffable mystery, God’s immanence continues to evolve, as we evolve, because we are how God experiences incarnation. Each one of us is God-incarnate; and not just us humans; each manifestation is a word of God made flesh. All of manifestation is God in drag. As an incarnation of God, none of us – not even the man Jesus – is omniscient.

As Jesus radically revamped the old myth and co-created a new notion of God, so must we. Jesus was to Moses as Einstein was to Newton. We need a totally different mythology, one that will emerge from a world-wide dialogue among religious and spiritual people. And we are not just speaking of a better ethics – that is merely the foundation course – but must reach for a mystical connection. Only a relationship based on complete trust and love of God – as ineffable Source and as immanent manifestation – can allow us to evolve into the future.

There are three ways of dealing with myths. Firstly, accept them as literal truth, and we’ve seen the horrific results of that. Secondly, interpret them symbolically; but this involves such mental and spiritual gymnastics that it exhausts both imagination and soul. Thirdly, park the old myth respectfully as the best we could do at an earlier stage of human development and invent a brand-new, love-based myth; one that allows us to offer a Namasté to all creatures and all situations. A myth that allows us to see God everywhere and in everyone.

Namasté,

Seán

Fr. Seán ÓLaoire, PhD

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