Rev. Dr. Catherine Quehl-Engel
Trinity Episcopal Church
Year B – Feb. 15, 2015
A decade ago, I came across a prayer in Bruges, Belgium while exploring a chapel which once housed a circle of medieval lay women mystics. Over the years, the prayer has pulled me through hard times–transfiguring my heart and mind. It also helps tune me in each morning to God’s presence and energies of Love dwelling inside us and all beings. I’d like to open with that prayer, not only because of Transfiguration Day, but also as an offering of solace if you are among those who are simply undone by winter. Or who are, perhaps, facing an incurable illness, or the incurable illness or loss of a loved one like Rich. Or maybe in response to this week’s news with the murders of 3 Muslim students in Chapel Hill and in Syria, the 7th student death at Tulane University—the 4th this year by suicide, or the ongoing terror of ISIS, you are asking God’s assistance in rekindling Light. To help us more consciously live as carriers of Light, hope, and as instruments of healing peace. So if you will please, join me in prayer:
Lord, to you we lift up our whole being, vessels emptied of self. Accept, Lord, this emptiness, and so fill us with Thyself: Thy love, thy Light, thy life, so that these precious gifts may radiant through us, overflowing the chalice of our hearts, and into the hearts of all those we come into contact with this day; revealing the beauty of Thy joy and the serenity of Thy peace which nothing can destroy. Amen.
Perhaps you’ve seen those Kirlian photographs of plants and other living things which reveal the way all beings emit light. There are even photographs of the activated hands of reiki and healing touch practitioners. Like that modern day Chalice Prayer I found in an old chapel in Bruges, when these healers ask to be emptied of ego mind in order to be vessels through which Divine healing love and life force flows, the photos reveal the light emitted from their hands increases.
There is similar research by scientists at Institute for HeartMath and beyond which study the impact of our thoughts and feelings upon the electromagnetic field of the human heart (This is not woo-woo. This really is being studied by scientists). When a person is asked to shift his or her awareness to a memory, image, or word they associate with feelings of unconditional love, care, and compassion, the electromagnetic field radiating from the heart center expands. Researchers also note how this energy field contributes to entrainment or positive influence from that compassion based feeling and though on other people. Even the heart rate of someone who is, say, anxious, starts to calm and align with that of a person who is using a heart-focused breathing technique combined with feelings of compassion. All of this is one reason I teach the age-old practice of interior prayer of the heart and compassion meditation to students, faculty, and staff; especially those who want to be a healing presence, like in, say, a contentious faculty meeting, or as an emergency responder, or simply for one’s friends or loved ones when they are in need.
Long before scientists spoke of this light or energy radiating in and between us, Christian mystics and sages in other spiritual traditions spoke in such manner. In his 16th c. spiritual treatise on the pursuit of mystical union with Christ (The Ascent of Mount Carmel), Spanish Catholic mystic and poet, St. John of the cross, spoke of Divine light existing in all people. He said that Divine Light is even the greatest sinner in the world (Ascent Book Two 5.3). This light exists within us even when you and I may feel like we’re groping through the Darkest of Nights feeling a bit lost, afraid, or uncertain—anything but radiant. It’s in us even when we don’t feel God’s presence near.
John’s friend, Teresa of Avila, also spoke of this Divine presence abiding as the deepest core of our being. She opens her book called The Interior Castle, saying how many of our problems stem from the fact that we don’t really know who we are, “for we seldom consider who dwells within our souls (1.2).” Both Teresa and John went on to speak in their own ways about what I call the inner gentle, gesture of surrender as the means by which we plug into this indwelling grace or Sacred Light and Love.
Eastern Orthodox Christian sages speak of God’s energies dwelling inside us (though they make a clear distinction between God’s energies vs. essence which remains transcendent). Yes, I know that sounds “New Agey”, but Orthodox Christians have always spoken of God’s energies. It goes back to the Biblical Greek New Testament where reference to this is made some 30 times, though the Latin loses the translation so that is says things like “God’ working in you,” rather than “energizing you.”
When Christian scripture, mystics like John of the Cross and Teresa, and these Orthodox Christians speak of Divine Light and energy dwelling not only in our hearts and souls but throughout our entire physical being, these references have as much to do with metaphor as when Einstein spoke of all physical matter being energy.
So I wonder. Would the way we perceive our world, others, ourselves, and the Divine Change if we believed this Divine Light shining in and through us and all creation was truly so? Would anything change if we lived as if this one Light, Love, and Divine Beauty inside us and all beings was like a matrix of grace inside us, linking us as one? What if Jesus saying “You, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellow men, so that they may see the good you do, and give glory to God,” was more than an attempt at pretty poetry? What if you are like a lamp stand, and the Divine life force Spirit is the radiance shining through you and everything? What if you put on the mind of Christ or Christ-consciousness of knowing yourself and all people and beings—even the people who really annoy you, as “oned” with the Divine and thus one another? What if you prayerfully consent throughout the day to God’s presence shining through you as you ask to be a clear and open vessel through which God’s healing love flows?
For the mystical sages of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the transfiguring light experienced by the disciples up on that mountain is the same Light John’s Gospel speaks of as shining in and through you, me, and all living things coming into the world since the beginning of time (John 1:1-4). It’s the same light in the star that guided shepherds and sages to God’s incarnation as babe as vulnerable as our own births.
Now here’s the real kicker: According to the Church Fathers of the Eastern Church, the Transfiguration wasn’t about some change happening to Christ. What changed or was transfigured was the awareness of the disciples.
Shawnthea Monroe-Mueller tells how she took a group of inner-city students canoeing in northern Minnesota. The first night after the sun had set a young woman looked up at the star-filled night and said, “Where did those come from?” Shawnthea explained how they are always there but that because there was so much light pollution back home, it was too bright to see anything but the brightest of stars. She goes on to say how it’s hard to see the glory of God when we ourselves, and other things, are standing in the spotlight.
I imagine the analogy also works with the spotlight we put on what so and so said or did that upsets us, or the spot light we place upon our own perfectionist frustration with ourselves—our weaknesses, mistakes, insufficiencies, finitude, and flaws.
We need, states Shawnthea, to heed Paul’s words, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.” To let the light shine not on us but through us. Light “[revealing] not so much who we are, but whose we are, and has the power to transform us.
May your awareness of others and yourself be transfigured as you sojourn forth into Ash Wednesday and beyond.
May you lift up your whole being as a vessel emptied of self.
May you ask God to accept this emptiness.
May you ask God to accept and fill this emptiness—bidden or unbidden,
with God self: God’s love, Light, and life.
So that these precious gifts may radiate throughout your being, overflowing the
chalice of your heart, into the hearts of all you come in contact with this day;
Revealing the beauty of God’s joy and the serenity of God’s peace
which nothing can destroy.
 Adapted from Frances Nuttal’s The Chalice Prayer.
 See research articles at http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/articles-of-the-heart/index.html.
Also Morris, Steven, Achieving Collective Coherence: Group Effects on HeartRate Variability Coherence and Hearth Rhythm Synchronization, Alternative Therapies Jul/Aug 2010, Vol. 16, No.4.
[i] 2 CORINTHIANS 4:3-6 Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
MARK 9:2-9 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
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