And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. – Mark 9:2c-3
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18
The season of Lent is always preceded by Transfiguration Sunday in the liturgical calendar. On this Sunday, we read the Gospel passages that recount the transfiguration of Jesus, when Jesus appeared on the mountain in dazzling white clothing, alongside Moses and Elijah. It is a miraculous, life-changing moment, particularly for the disciples who witness the event and become certain that Jesus is the Messiah. Nevertheless, those disciples must depart from the mountain and resume the daily work of spiritual growth and ministry even as Jesus speaks of dark days ahead.
This reminds me of the transition from Transfiguration Sunday to the Season of Lent. The dazzling white of transfiguration is followed by the black soot of Ash Wednesday. The faithful begin a more earnest focus on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, study of scripture, and service. Churches, including my own, offer Lenten studies, prayer groups, weekly services, quiet days, and fasts. Through these practices, many hope to develop a spirituality that transfigures and transforms us into our highest selves.
As we enter this season of Lent, I have a few reflections on developing a transformative spirituality.
- Spiritual transformation is not achieved by trying but by training.
This concept comes from our church’s Lenten study from 2015, John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. Ortberg presents spiritual disciplines as the path to transformation. He uses the illustration of an athlete who wants to run a marathon. The athlete could simply wait until the day of the race and try to run the marathon or she could train regularly in the months and weeks leading up to the race. Obviously that latter approach would yield the better result. The same is true in numerous pursuits, whether athletic, academic, or artistic. Excellence is achieved, not by trying, but by training and consistent practice. The same is also true of spiritual growth. As Paul instructs Timothy, “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way” (2 Tim 4:7-8). Spiritual disciplines, practiced regularly, train us to listen for God’s voice in every aspect of our lives, transforming us into the people God created us to be.
- Spiritual disciplines are means of grace through which we become open to God’s transforming
I like this sentence not only because it is true, but also because it makes me a good Methodist! John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, included attending the means of grace, as the third of his three general rules. He emphasized the spiritual disciplines of public worship and sacrament, private and family prayer, bible study, and fasting. Other spiritual disciplines include meditation, solitude, guidance, and service. According to Bishop Reuben Job, in Three Simple Rules, “Spiritual disciplines keep us in that healing, redeeming presence and power of God that forms and transforms each of us more and more into the image of the One we seek to follow.” For some, the word “discipline” may inspire guilt or judgment, as though we are being graded on our spiritual lives. Try to see them, instead, as spiritual practices that open the door to experiencing God’s love (not judgment) and grace (not guilt).
- Transfiguration happens on the mountain, but transformation happens in the valley.
Many people have had mountaintop experiences or special encounters with the Divine. These experiences can be life-changing, even miraculous, as God is revealed in new ways. But the true work of transformation begins after the mountaintop, in the valley of life’s complexities and difficulties. There, we must daily choose to develop spiritual habits that will develop our character over quick fixes and instantly gratifying solutions. These may feel like thankless tasks. Transformation takes place inside the chrysalis, when no one is watching, where the hard work of growth and development occurs. Compare the runner who does not receive a medal for waking up before dawn to run five miles every morning. Consider the musician who receives no award for practicing scales. Both, however, are better prepared for performance day because of their steady, persistent preparation. Likewise, spiritual disciplines are the hidden works that, over time, lead us to a closer walk with God and prepare us to answer our calling and fulfill our life purpose.
During this season of Lent, choose one or two spiritual disciplines to develop. Commit to consistent practice over the next 40 days. Let us together experience a spirituality that transfigures and transforms.