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Marbles and Omelets – Br. Mark Brown

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Mark 9:2-9

This cope I’m wearing today has great sentimental value: it was hand crafted as an ordination gift from my parents.  As it happens, the process leading up to my ordination was rather harrowing, so this festal garment is a reminder that, in the end, things work out.  Ultimately.  As Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well”. At least ultimately.

Today Jesus gives Peter and James and John a preview of “ultimately”.  A few days earlier he had told them that the Son of Man was to undergo great sufferings, rejection, death, and, after three days, be raised from the dead.  The vision of transfiguration on the mountain was a kind of preview of resurrection.  Perhaps because he knew the experience would be so harrowing he wanted the disciples to see for themselves how it was going to turn out in the end.  All would be well—at least on the other side of the cross.

This episode is of special importance in the Eastern Orthodox churches. It is seen as a revelation not only of Jesus’ glory, but of our own. We shall be as he was upon that mountain top. “Oh wondrous type, O vision fair, of glory that the church may share,” the hymn goes. [Hymnal 1982 #137]  As with Jesus, so with us.  The Orthodox call this process theosis, or divinization, i.e., our becoming like Christ. Ultimately.

“Transfigure” and “transfiguration” are Latinate words. The original Biblical Greek word is metamorphosis, which means a change of form—and which translated into English is metamorphosis.  He was “metamorphosed” before them, and his clothes became dazzling white. Both he and his garments were transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed.

Even though “transfiguration” and “metamorphosis” are similar in meaning, they’ve taken on different colorations, different connotations in English.  “Transfiguration” has a sense of the supernatural about it; it’s a word we use mostly in religious contexts. “Metamorphosis” has more of the connotation of natural processes.  Both biology and geology speak of metamorphic processes. The marble here in this room is metamorphic rock: it was once sediment hardened into limestone and then, through movements of the earth’s crust, subjected to tremendous weight and heat.  This geological process changed the crystalline structure of the limestone, resulting in something new, and, depending on the original mineral impurities, given new color—voila: marble! White, green, black, salmon pink, deep, deep red. Limestone metamorphosed.

We human beings can lay claim to both transfiguration and metamorphosis. Transfiguration in the ultimate and supernatural sense of sharing the glory of Christ in our heavenly existence.  And metamorphosis in the sense of processes of change working within us, both in natural processes, and in processes “of the Spirit”.

Natural processes run the gamut from nearly instantaneous (the Big Bang) to aeons: the formation of stars and galaxies, the geological processes of the earth, evolution.  Millions and billions of years. Fast, medium, slow, very slow—and everything in between.

We prefer fast—which, I suppose is understandable, since we’re not here for long (100 years or so max).  But a very wise man once said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”  Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit theologian and geologist. As a geologist, Fr. Pierre knew the slow work of God. The metamorphosis of one kind of rock into another can take millions of years. The tectonic shifts of the earth’s crust have been in process for billions of years. “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”

Here is a short poem of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for a day on which we contemplate transfiguration and metamorphosis.  (I think these words started out life as prose, but somewhere along the line were editorially ‘transfigured’ into poetry. Either way, it’s good advice…)

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

“Accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”

Ironically, Fr. Pierre is buried at the Culinary Institute of America near Poughkeepsie, NY (the buildings were once a Jesuit Novitiate). The CIA, the culinary CIA, specializes in very fast transfigurations.  Time is measured in minutes and hours.  The transfiguration of raw chicken eggs into omelette au fromage takes only a few seconds.  But Fr. Pierre would be first to remind us that we are not omelets, even if some days our heads may feel like fried eggs.

We’re in a hurry; God is not. We will know transfiguration.  Now we live with the more subtle and gradual changes of metamorphosis. And this requires trust, trust that God is indeed working in our lives through the spirit, through the world around us and in the natural processes into which we are imbedded. It’s natural to have some anxiety about our own brokenness, our sense of incompleteness, our wanting to be other than what we are already. And it’s natural to be vexed over the perceived brokenness and incompleteness of others. But, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.”  And, as Fr. Pierre says, accept the anxiety of incompleteness.  Because it’s all still in flux.  The slow work of God is still underway.

Is anything less beautiful because it is a long time in the making? The marble?  The mountains and the seas and the heavens above? Are we ourselves any less beautiful for being a long time in the making?

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be very well.”  Julian was right.  So was Fr. Pierre. Dazzling festal garments whiter than snow shall be ours—we shall indeed be transfigured and be “changed into his likeness from glory to glory”. All things, spoken out into existence by the Living Word [John 1:3] are also spoken toward [John 1:1 πρὸς τὸν ϑεόν], into the very heart of God, “into the bosom of the Father” [John 1:18 εἰς τὸν κόλπον].  And it is in that infinitely expansive, infinitely capacious, infinitely transformative fatherly bosom that all shall be transfigured and all shall be transfigured and all manner of thing shall be transfigured.

But, in the meantime (and sometimes the times are mean, even harrowing)—in the meantime, we do well to trust in the slow work of God.  We do well to trust in the fast work of God.  For that matter, we do well to trust in all the work of God.  We do well and shall be very well indeed.

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23 Comments

  1. Lynn on September 4, 2017 at 23:30

    God spent 50 years transforming my heart before I woke up to his presence, and so often now I ask Him, Who am I? What am I meant to do? Why have you brought me here? And then sometimes I have a glimpse of what he has been working on. Next Sunday I am to become the sponsor, godparent, to a lovely young man about the same age as my own sons. Who am I to be asked to fulfill such a role in a young person’s life? May I be worthy.

    And this weekend, I had a long lovely talk with a woman I have been yearning to befriend, the mother of my son’s friend. We talked for hours and at one point she asked me what church I attend, and said she wanted to start going again but had been hurt by the church of her childhood. With tears in her eyes. Come, my friend, come and see the love and joy and peace that is the communion of saints. Who am I to you, my gracious God? Thank you that I can live in your love and share it with these people. Thank you for working these changes in me.

  2. Anders on September 1, 2017 at 11:40

    Thank you. For me, Hollywood and laundry commercials have dulled any emotional or theological impact which the vitality of the super white clothes could have on me. I find the greatest living images of transfiguration, transformation, metamorphosis – change in the hands of loving God – in the everyday. News of a childhood friend’s wife not having a drink in over a year after her liver transplant; a dandelion blooming in cracked asphalt; my own hardened heart letting go of anger towards my ex-wife for emotionally neglecting our children upon returning to her abusive alcoholic boyfriend in a six year long bad addiction relationship: these are small things perhaps. Yet all are concrete things of a new Spirit gradually forming in and around me, that all shall be well.

  3. Mary Naumann on September 1, 2017 at 11:10

    What gifts for the soul you wrap within your delightful prose. Blessings!

  4. Patti on September 1, 2017 at 10:50

    Brother Mark, your message is just what my too-impatient self needs to hear this morning. Thank you for your wise and understanding words this morning.

  5. Marshall Keys on September 1, 2017 at 08:50

    “The faster they hurry, the slower they go.”

    Hsin Hsin Ming after Sosen

  6. CHRISTINA MCKERROW on September 1, 2017 at 08:46

    A year later. My flower baskets on the balcony have not fared as well with our unpredictable summer. But, re-reading Br. Mark’s sermon, I have different thoughts.
    I am constantly amazed by our Great Creator. Over time, I have come to recognise that my time is not God’s time, things I have prayed about did not seem to get a response. But, hold on a little – some days later, perhaps longer, I wake up to the fact that there is an answer: a new way of looking at something; new gifts that I have been granted
    I have been a widow for eight years. People say, ‘you have to get on with your life.’ What does that mean? I realise that in the intervening years, I have been several different people. More recently, I have come to recognise that I do not need to conform to what others may think I should be, what I should do. I am probably happier now than I have been for a long time. I’m just ME. It took my eternal Creator a long time to get that message through to me. Blessings to all. Christina

  7. Ruth West on August 10, 2016 at 23:50

    A little post script to my comment: I remember teaching those young grade school pupils the fact that the butterfly must stay in the cocoon until the time is right for it to emerge. The experiment consisted of prying open the cocoon a bit early. Surely the butterfly would emerge and fly away. But they were so disappointed that it did not. It flopped a bit and soon died. I wonder if we, too, try much too hard to take matters into our own hands when we do not wait for God to work his transformation in his own time. Of course, this analogy can be taken too far, but I still see it as a lesson for us.

  8. Ruth West on August 10, 2016 at 23:40

    Br. Mark, your sermon is such an object of deep thinking! I loved thinking about it, as it unfolded.
    I especially liked the part about the time-consuming creation of marble. I have taught that in grade school Science, not really seeing it as such a lesson in God’s timing. So good! I am one of those who likes the instant, the hurry- up- and -do- it person, of course, knowing that God is capable of any and all. But the how realistic it is to know that God does work slowly in nature, and oftentimes, in answering prayer, in teaching us to wait, to be patient. Thank you for this lesson.

  9. Eben Carsey on August 9, 2016 at 19:17

    Thank you, Brother Mark. I greatly appreciate your sermons. I think, by the way, the PTdC was a theologian and a paleontologist.

  10. Ed Greene on August 6, 2016 at 12:25

    Thank you, Brother Mark. The Transfiguration has had a deep personal meaning for me all my adult life — and of course that meaning has “metamorphosed” year after year. One of my guiding principles is the title of a book by Jean LeClerq — “The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.” That quality shines all through your preaching.

  11. CHRISTINA on August 6, 2016 at 09:48

    This morning, as I look out on my balcony, there is a portrait of God’s time. The baskets of multi-coloured flowers have been bringing me daily joy for about two months, and in this scorching summer they need constant watering. //A metamorphosis of God’s time and God’s handiwork: someone gathered the seeds, planted them, transplanted the seedlings to pots in which they grew – quite slowly. They reached a size when they joined others to bring joy. My joy. But, let me think of all the hands that worked to produce this work of art with which I am blessed daily. Thanks be to God.

  12. Joan on August 6, 2016 at 09:03

    A deep sense of peace slowly settled around and within me as I read your words today. Thank you Br. Mark.

  13. Michael on August 6, 2016 at 08:23

    Far too often I think I’m the “only one” who is impatient, critical, anxiety filled and on and on my critical voice sings. Thanks for widening my self concept and reminding me others are as human as I am. Indeed, it takes a village to raise us all

  14. Sandra Ahn on August 6, 2016 at 05:13

    Brother Mark,
    How timely this homily is, perhaps even timeless. I am currently visiting Transfiguration Monastery in Windsor, NY so yesterday and today have very special meaning here. Your message, the poems by Fr. Pierre and Julian of Norwich reinforce the lesson that I am but clay and the potter continues His work. With a grateful heart, Sandra of Oakland

  15. Fred Adams on February 14, 2015 at 14:43

    Brother Mark,
    How beautiful. How poetic. How “on the mark” your message. You spoke/speak to my heart. Thank you and bless you for this timeless message.

  16. Kate Coffey on February 12, 2015 at 13:05

    Thank you, as always. Your words remind me of Paul’s, that we are being transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor 3:18) I believe it was Fr. Pierre who wrote that all the pain inherent in our slow metamorphosis becomes fuel for the transformation of the whole universe, when offered on behalf of love. Such a high and hopeful calling, indeed. Thank you.

  17. Sally Anne on February 12, 2015 at 12:43

    As a widow, it seems to take forever to recover adequately. I was impatient with a relative the other day due to their unknowingly insensitive comment. Let me be not only slow with my recovery but slow with others learning as well. This reading and commentary is good
    meat for that understanding.

  18. susie mcniff on February 12, 2015 at 10:15

    Beautifully written Brother Mark, I will print this and leave it on my bulletin board in my office. These words should be read and re-read. Blessings, Susie

  19. Christopher Engle Barnhart on February 12, 2015 at 09:34

    It is so wonderful to read your passage and to know that we too will be transfigured by God’s Grace and Mercy.

  20. Christina on February 12, 2015 at 09:26

    Thank you Brother Mark. I must have read this back in 2012, but its content resonates with me this morning after a sleepless night. I don’t need to say, but am constantly aware, that God is awesome. I have just had to discover that my time, my hurry, is not God’s time. I went to Iona a few years ago: on arriving at the island we may have been expecting God to be there to greet us. Not so. We were there for a few days before the Spirit, that is the island, revealed the wonder of that thin place.
    Christina
    (But even the omelet doesn’t start out as a cracked egg – it has to be laid by the hen.)

  21. Eunice Schatz on February 12, 2015 at 09:13

    Never were Pierre de Chardin’s words, quoted by Brother Mark, more poignantly aligned with my life than just now, recovering all-too-slowly from knee surgery. As the body heals, much deeper down soul healing is taking place in someone who has cherished quick fixes and “undue haste”! Thank you for the reminder.

  22. Leslie on February 12, 2015 at 08:18

    Thank you; this is exactly the word I needed for today. I know that I shall not be free of sin in this life. My prayer for myself is that less of my sin shall escape from my heart to cause harm to others.

  23. Patrick Smith on February 24, 2012 at 17:23

    Brother Mark, thank you for this. I love it, it really lifts me.

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