Late-winter sunlight can play tricks, I learned on a recent visit to Laumeier Sculpture Park in southwest St. Louis County.
Rounding a bend on the walking path, I encountered the gleaming white figure of Jonathan Borofsky’s “Man With A Briefcase.” Brilliant white…but otherwise featureless: It dazzled my eyes!
A few steps…and a few seconds…later, I discovered that the sculpture isn’t featureless at all. Rather, it’s inscribed with an inscrutable number: #2968443.
The digits are explained in the accompanying placard as part of the artist’s everyday work routine -– a way of tracking his various projects-in-process. But in this case, the commentator suggests, they may also carry sinister overtones of depersonalization, the “numbers now identifying individuals in a technological society.”
But I found myself marveling more at the ephemeral experience I’d just had: How I’d seen one thing, and then something quite different, in the exact same space…and all this, playing out over the course of just a few moments on a late-winter afternoon.
Could Borofsky have anticipated such an encounter, a random moment of brilliance bursting forth one sunny Sunday, some 37 years after the sculpture’s installation? A tip of the cap to him, if he did: His work wound up being quite beautiful, in a thoroughly unexpected way.
And on the Second Sunday of Lent, I find myself thinking back on that moment – wondering how it might inform and illuminate a different experience of brilliance, the Transfiguration.
We hear a version of the story every year during Lent. We hear it so often, in fact, that it tends to lose a bit of its sheen in my mind and heart. It becomes calcified, I notice: a mere museum piece.
And [Jesus] was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
I’m pretty sure “calcified” is not the reaction Jesus and the Holy Spirit are shooting for when they give us this gift – this scriptural installation – each spring. The mountaintop experience is meant to be more like an oasis on the path to Calvary, showing us a glimpse of the glory on the other side of the cross.
“Glory” we can handle, I suppose. It fits with our concept of God. But how can we comprehend the cross?
How can we embrace this oppressive weight, the cross that Jesus must endure? Or even the tiny slivers of the cross that afflict our own lives each day?
Jesus does not describe the path forward regarding these questions in any detail. But he does promise us his steady presence – presence, as a stay against all fear and confusion. So perhaps this promise could offer something of a de-calcified takeaway from the gospel story we hear today:
Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
This year, I’m thinking of making it a Lenten resolution not to look past his promise. Instead, I will work to stay focused on the Light, in order to see what blessings might emerge…just up around the bend.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.