Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 37, “The Transfiguration”

Dear friend,*

As Jesus headed to Jerusalem, knowingly to his death, he did something unusual, or God did. On a mountainside Jesus was “transfigured” in front of his closest Apostles: Peter, John, and James (Santiago). Matthew reports, “His face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as snow.” Romano Guardini calls this incident “the summer lightning of the coming Resurrection,” so beautifully.

Likewise, you and I, as we headed toward our death and resurrection (graduation from prep school and off-you-go to college), we did an unusual thing. We took drugs. The academic year 1968–1969, our senior year, was certifiably the year when use of marijuana and hashish crashed like a tidal wave on secondary-school campuses. You and I got wet. We weren’t special. We thought we were special, though.

Drug use was illuminating, like the Transfiguration. Amid dull routine a sharp light breaks in: ah, life! Guardini: “Here on the mountain, for one moment, [Christ’s truth and love] break through in all their radiant clarity. This was the Light which had come into the world and was powerful enough to illuminate it completely.”

Drug use is not exactly the Transfiguration. It is brought about by chemicals, not by God. It is momentary, but becomes addictive. As you and I admitted when we saw each other in August, it leads to other things: harder drugs for some, alcohol for many. The “light” is chemical, transitory, terribly destructive. Our generation saw the light—a freight train coming at us in a long dark tunnel of growing up.

Drugs altered our perception; the same reality seemed remade. Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception were thrown open, but to what vision? It was marijuana that evoked our “oh wows” over “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as I hinted in the last line of this recent post. But the following morning, I doubt we could have explained any of our insights to each other, let alone friends. What did we see? Did what we saw exist?

As a Catholic Christian, I have faith that something real broke through on that mountainside. The Transfiguration was, is, a reality for me and greater than any “oh wow.” Not a shift of sight but a revelation of what is there truly to be seen. Anyone who says it was only an illusion, some sort of peyote dream à la Carlos Castañeda, or maybe a vision quest, is not a Christian. A gnostic maybe, a New Ager, a spiritual person, but no Christian.

Christians, Catholics anyway, cling to the certainty that some visions are more substantial than others. 

With a smile,WB

This series of posts continues here with chapter 38.

* This post continues a series of meditations on The Lord, Romano Guardini’s great book about Jesus, in the form of open letters to a very real (non-illusory) friend of my days in boarding school and college.

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