TRANSFIGURATION DAY

I’m always surprised when I discover how many Episcopalians don’t know that we have communities of monks and nuns in our church! Everyone knows of Religious Orders in the Roman Catholic Church, many are aware of Eastern Orthodox monastics, but it seems few realize that there are similar Anglican communities.

I was fortunate in that, growing up, a Franciscan brother made regular visits to my home parish. I still remember his brown toes peeking out from his sandals and rough habit as I knelt at the rail to receive communion from him!  Those same Franciscans made regular appearances at Seabury-Western where I went to seminary and helped me develop my very first Rule of Life, a pattern of spiritual disciplines and practices…most of which I still observe to this day.

I made annual retreats in monasteries over the years and actually became an Associate of the men’s Order of the Holy Cross, based in West Park, New York.  But my deepest connection with such communities came when I was asked to become the Bishop Visitor (a kind of official advisor) to the Sisters of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati.

I had been scheduled to lead their long retreat one year when, as it happened, they were looking for a new Bishop Visitor. My name was added to the pool and I ended up being selected and serving in that capacity for some 25 years!  The Diocese of Iowa even added to their number as Diana Doncaster (whom some of you know), a professor of communications at Loras College in Dubuque, tested her vocation there and took life vows maybe fifteen years ago.

Over the years, this Community of around thirty sisters have had teaching ministries in China, founded and continue to run Bethany School in Glendale, Ohio, oversee a recreational center in Lincoln Heights (a predominantly African American community near their Mother House), and provided a small nursing home for older sisters and their families as well as a medical clinic and school in the Dominican Republic. Recently, they converted the nursing home into a first-class retreat and conference facility called the Transfiguration Spirituality Center.

The Community of the Transfiguration takes its name and primary vocation from the experience of Jesus we heard about in the Gospel this morning and which we celebrate on August 6 each year.  Some New Testament scholars believe this is a “misplaced” Resurrection appearance like perhaps the accounts of Jesus “walking on water.”

But I’m convinced that this was likely an historical recollection of an experience in the earthly life of Jesus. An intense mystical experience he had while wrapped in prayer on the top of Mount Tabor.  It was an experience which changed him, and his disciples’ perception of him, forever.  It’s described well in the traditional Prayer Book Collect appointed for this day which reads like this:

”O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty…”

The Sisters pray this collect every evening at Compline and it sums up their vocation. Quite apart from their many good works and amazing ministries (in fact, the source of those ministries) is their choice to be delivered from the “disquietude” of this world by living in a community of poverty, chastity, and obedience in order to “behold (Christ) …in his beauty.”

One way they monitor their progress on this journey is by keeping the three words of their community motto ever before them. The three Latin words are: Benignitas…Simplicitas…and Hilaritas – Kindness…Simplicity…and Joy!

The Sisters seek, first of all, to be “kind”… to treat one another and everyone with whom they interact as “kin,” as members of the family – “kin-dness!” Next, they seek to live in simplicity, as free as possible from worldly attachments, the “stuff” we so easily surround ourselves with and which can equally easily distract us from the truly important things in life. Finally – and I love this! – they seek to live with Hilaritas…with hilarity…with joy! (You only have to listen to them kid each other and banter back and forth in their brief chapter meetings after dinner to know that these women live together, not only mostly happily…but more importantly with real joy!)

We don’t know exactly what happened to Jesus on that mount of transfiguration; as I say it was likely a mystical union so intense that his friends noticed it.  It transfigured him…and them! My 25 years as Bishop Visitor for the Community of Transfiguration allowed me the privilege of watching them undergo something of that same Transfiguration as they have grown in kindness, and in simplicity, and in joy.

Of course, such transfiguration experiences are not limited to monastics! All of us are called to be gradually transfigured into the image and likeness of Christ. And it happens to us in much the same way as it has happened to those beloved Sisters – by experiencing Christian community (much as we strive to be here at New Song), by a disciplined life of prayer and study, and by living that spirituality out in lives of service and commitment to the wider world.

Are we on that journey of transfiguration, my friends? Well, we could do worse than measure our progress by the motto of those Sisters –

Benignatas…Simplicitas…Hilaritas. Are you kinder this year than you were last? Do you live more simply? Are you more joyful? If so, you’re probably headed in the right direction.

If not…maybe  it’s time to find ways to spend a little more time on that mountaintop with Jesus — by recommitting yourself to this community,  in prayer and study, and in corporate worship.

 

And then, get ready to follow Jesus back down the mountain into the valley of this broken world. Where the real work waits to be done…

One Response to “TRANSFIGURATION DAY”

  1. sisterlynnjulian Says:

    Wow! Thank you for your kind words. We miss you – come back soon to visit!

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