On the mind of the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser

Aug 4, 2023

As New Yorkers, we move through a sea of countless faces every day. Some grumpy, some cheery, most simply intent on where they’re going. If I look closely, I can often detect a hint of stress, sadness, humor, or even wonder (especially among the tourists on 5th Avenue).

On occasion, I see something even better than wonder. I see a face that seems to be lit by the light of God. The face of a woman on the subway carried away by the music on her headphones. The face of a father who looks on affectionately as his child plays in the park. The face of a congregation member belting out a hymn with gusto and glee. In the summer, I often see a man in business attire stopped next to our garden on 35th street. Eyes closed, a relaxed smile, chin tilted toward the sun, his face literally transfigured by its rays.

Maybe you have felt the same thing happen to your face. Standing barefoot in the sand watching the ocean waves, having a beer at a baseball game in July, gazing at your lover while thinking how lucky you are to have them. As theologian Frederick Buechner puts it, “Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.”

This Sunday, August 6, marks the Feast of the Transfiguration. We will hear how Jesus is transfigured by a brilliant white light at the top of a mountain. His face lights up brighter than the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear on the scene straight out of heaven. And God the Father, speaking from the clouds, proclaims Jesus to be his beloved Son. It’s considerably more dramatic than the look someone might have watching the waves roll in at the beach. But transfiguration happens in ways both big and small. In fact, it’s part and parcel of the Christian life.

Following Jesus is not simply being a good citizen, taking care of our loved ones, and living the American dream with a little church attendance tacked on at the end. It’s an all-consuming call by God to a relationship with Jesus so that we can continue his earthly ministry, loving God and loving neighbor. The whole enterprise becomes a reorientation of self. We move from an inner orientation focused on ego to an outward orientation focused on others.

Over time, that’s how transfiguration happens. If we think about it, most of us can find ways we have been changed by the presence of Jesus in our lives and our attempts to walk in his ways. We are less selfish and more generous than we used to be. Less judgmental and more tolerant. Less anxious and more trusting. We do fewer bad things and more good things. If we look back at the story of our personal relationship with God, we will find that we have been “transfigured” – smoothed out, reshaped, and formed more and more into the image of Christ.

The light emanating from Jesus was an unmistakable sign of his divinity manifesting itself in the material world. May the divine light in us manifest as well. Then the face of God, gazing upon us children loving one another, will be transfigured too.