The newspaper article about my contemplative journey had a wonderful misquote. I told the reporter about having a sense of a Voice speaking to me just before meeting Mother Teresa in 1986, when I was 30 years old. What I heard was, “You are here for your own transformation William, not just to meet Mother Teresa.” The reporter changed it to my own “transfiguration”. My wife and I had a big laugh over that one. Just what the world needs, another white religious male who thinks he belongs up in the clouds, transfigured with Jesus and some Jewish prophets. Oh the wonders of the male ego.
But the misquote has me thinking. Isn’t some form of super spiritual experience what I have often been seeking in contemplation? If I am honest, (and things usually work out better when I am), I have wanted a really peaceful sense of well-being every time I ever practiced the many forms of meditation. From day one I had to start learning that grasping for peaceful feelings was one of the main things I needed to release. Try to feel peaceful and you guarantee it doesn’t come, since peace is never under our control. And it surely doesn’t arise when we are striving to create it, since even subtle striving is still the opposite of the conditions for peace.
What are the conditions for peace? Surrender is the one condition we can practice. It’s a paradox. The only way to experience real peace of mind is through letting go of efforts to feel peaceful. We surrender all that effort, open to whatever comes, and sometimes peace finds us on its own. Bottom line: peace is always a gift, and no one has a corner on that market.
But really the transfiguration I have sometimes wanted goes beyond peace. The little “i” in me really wants people to admire me, to think I am wonderful, to believe I walk in the clouds, up there with the spiritual giants. So I guess the reporter’s misquote actually captured a part of me. You could call it my “false self,” as Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, and others do. That little guy thinks he wants people to look up to him, but the esteem of others is a poor substitute for the real spiritual journey of my own transformation.
And that’s the rub, because transformation is hard, and it takes a lifetime. So in reality, a part of me would prefer being “transfigured” in some moment of spiritual glory to being “transformed.” But what I actually experience in both contemplative practice and service is transformation. Practicing the presence of God, whether in formal practice or during service of the world, is about letting go of one thought, feeling, and impulse after another – all of them surrendered into Presence. All that is false rises and falls away, at least in my better moments. Only the true being I am remains. And wonder of wonders, it turns out that in the deeps is the divine spark, hidden in the inner sanctuary where the Sacred and I are one.
Here is another amazing paradox. In the deeps there is an actual transfiguration going on. But it’s not some imaginary, ego-based shining based on seeking glory, fame, or esteem. What’s happening at the Center is a kind of coruscating*, a shining of the very glory of God in the place of oneness. The shining is small and simple. It is the discovery that beneath all my other layers there is a place of oneness, where God’s glory does want to shine out through me.
How’s that for a twist? Allow myself to undergo my own transformation, an inch at a time over the course of many years, including the release of so much that is false, and some day there might be an actual shining of what Richard Rohr describes as “immortal diamond.” (See his book by this title). So let’s see if we can get this quote right, and grasp the order of things on a contemplative journey: “You are here for your own transformation William, and after that will come an inner transfiguration – a shining of God’s glory right there inside you.”
Now this is what I seek. You? I would love to hear your thoughts.
*Coruscate is defined as “to emit vivid flashes of light; sparkle; scintillate; gleam.”
*Transfiguration is defined as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.”