One of my most significant memories of August is a day when we were returning to the airport after a holiday with friends in Croatia. As the bus drew into Split we started to hear singing from loudspeakers, and discovered that the Assumption mass was being broadcast to the whole town. As our friends had told us of many years when it had been very hard to profess their faith publicly, this felt particularly poignant and moving, heaven and earth somehow meeting in a very tangible way.
August is often a month for holidays and rest of different kinds, when many people move out from their daily situations and encounter other realities. We have the Feast of the Assumption, when Mary finally left her mortal body and ascended to life with Jesus, the Father and the Spirit in Heaven. And at the beginning of the month there is the lovely Feast of the Transfiguration, when Peter, James and John go up a mountain with Jesus and He there shows them the full light and glory that was more usually hidden from their eyes. Moses and Elijah are with Him, the deep fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Peter notes how wonderful the moment is for them, and the Father affirms his Beloved and commands the apostles to ‘Listen to Him’.
This Transfiguration reading seems to have enough nourishment for a lifetime of Lectio Divina. The brief but significant moment of heavenly glory calls to mind those precious moments when we may feel we actually glimpse realities of the essence and love of God. As Oblates, these may sometimes be when we are able to spend time in the monasteries with which we are linked, and benefit from the graces of lives attempting to be lived fully and faithfully to Benedict’s dictates. Possibly for those actually living in our monasteries, the glimpses of glory may be as fleeting as our own. And just as we benefit from the light they reflect, they may also need and benefit from our own calls to reflect this light in our daily lives.
In the Prologue to St Benedict’s Rule he writes of our own journey towards our heavenly home, our resting on the Holy Mountain of the Lord, and suggests that we listen to the Lord’s own advice, if we want to find the way:
‘He that walketh without blemish and worketh justice, he that speaketh truth in his heart; who has not used deceit in his tongue, not hath done evil to his neighbour, who has brought to nought the foul demon tempting him, casting him out his heart with his temptation, and hath taken his evil thoughts while they were yet weak and hath dashed them against Christ; who fearing the Lord are not puffed up by their goodness of life, but holding that the actual good which is in them cannot be done by themselves, but by the Lord, they praise the Lord working in them’.
Benedict knows that this will be difficult, and that we will constantly fail, sometimes in significant ways (it is salutary to remember, as we celebrate the Transfiguration, that another kind of light lit up the sky on that feast day in 1945, with the terrible falling of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima).
But essentially, as Henri Nouwen pointed out in such a healing way in his book ‘The Life of the Beloved’ the voice that came from the sky is for us too. Despite all our sadnesses, vulnerabilities, difficulties with treating our neighbour kindly, temptations to take all the credit for any good deeds we may do, we are each one of us The Beloved. Maybe our task is to make the most of any holiday or rest time to go up the mountain we encounter on any one particular day, take time to ‘listen to the precepts’ of our master, incline the ears of our hearts, and discover the glory of the Transfiguration waiting at the core of our beings.
Celia Lazarus, Minster Abbey