Monday, September 16, 2013

A transfigured window


When I was at university, there was a 'university mission' to which I went. On three consecutive nights, there were three presentations of the Christian faith from four distinguished Christian bishops. It was an extraordinary line up - Michael Ramsey who had been Archbishop of Canterbury and a distinguished theologian, followed by the famous double act of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Warlock, and his Anglican opposite number as Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, and finally, on the last night, Metropolitan Anthony, the charismatic and holy, Russian Orthodox prelate!

Ramsey struck me then as a man both holy and wise with a way of making complex truths simple. They all radiated a sense of holiness that detracted not one wit from their own humanity, and indeed eccentricity.

It was a surfeit of riches and today in Durham Cathedral a friend had directed me to a new (2010) stained glass window dedicated to the Transfiguration and offered in memory of Michael Ramsey for it was in Durham where he had taught, been bishop and to where he retired.

It is a beautiful window that no photograph can begin to do justice, especially as a whole. A central light, of the transfigured Christ, permeates creation. It offers a witness to the world's true nature as cosmos and to our actual participation in the divine. It points towards a hoped for, ever deepening, realisation of that grace such that every corner of the world might be illuminated, remembering its status as continual divine gift, and recover its wholeness.




It was a central theme of Ramsey's theology, as it was of Metropolitan Anthony's Orthodox faith, that we are participators in the divine nature. 'All' we need to do is to surrender into that light, an ever present offering if we have eyes to see.

As I sat there, I pondered the disciples reaction of amazement, bewilderment and an offered construction project namely to make booths for the three figures, Christ, Elijah and Moses!

This latter action struck me as a wholly perfect analogy for my own reaction to the proffered freedom of God: yes, please, but only if I can safely hedge it in with my own boundaries and worship its possibilities from afar, thank you very much! In that case, and only in that case, I can accept!

What might practicing the acceptance of transfiguration mean?

I suppose it starts with genuinely recognising it as gratuitous gift. This is how the world is, not created in 4004 BC or indeed in a 'big bang' but fundamentally held and given into being, always, now, at this moment. It is a gift of which I am wholly undeserving and yet it is wholly fitting. The only thing one needs to do with a gift is to accept it in gratitude. Yet how difficult it is to receive and be grateful and yet how necessary. The first spiritual act is to say 'thank you' - the difficulty appears that we are still like children to whom this does not come naturally or like adults for whom it has become merely perfunctory.

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