(Exodus 24:12-18 & 34:29-35; Matthew 17:1-9)
The Old Testament and Gospel scripture readings today made me think of a book about spiritual types I have used in the past with church members. The book is Discover Your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth, by Corinne Ware. It was published over twenty years ago, but when I found it on my bookshelf this week and looked through it again, I was happy to discover that it is still relevant today.
The book defines and describes four different spiritual types and provides an exercise that allows readers to figure out which types they are. Usually, we have a dominant type but are more than one type. I remember, distinctly, that I have a lot of what is called in the book a “mystic spirituality.” Ware states, “The aim of this spirituality is union with the Holy, and, although this is never completely achievable, only the continued attempt, or ‘the journey,’ satisfies. People attracted to this type of spirituality are often by nature contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world as real to them as the exterior one. This is most often the home of the mystic. Instead of a God who possesses characteristics similar to human ones, God is ineffable, unnameable, and more vast than any known category. God’s statement to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exod. 3:14), makes perfect sense to [this type] and is accurate to his understanding of the Holy.”
In the Exodus reading, Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God. He spends forty days and nights with God and, when he comes back down the mountain, his face is radiant because he has been speaking to God, the I AM WHO I AM. Whenever Moses spoke face-to-face with God, his face became radiant (Ex 34:29, 35).
In the Matthew reading, Jesus goes up a high mountain with Peter, James, and John. When they reach the top of the mountain, Jesus is “transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (17:2).
In both readings, in both situations, in which Moses and Jesus enter the spiritual realm, they take on the glory of God, which is the divine light. In a commentary on the meaning of the phrase, “the glory of the Lord,” the divine light is described as, “The white shining cloud of intolerable brightness, known among the Jews as the Shechinah, the visible token of the presence of the Eternal, in the bush, in the pillar of fire and cloud which guided the desert-wanderings, in the tabernacle and the temple. It shone round the Redeemer on the Mount of Transfiguration. It robed him when, risen, he appeared to the Pharisee Saul outside Damascus. The occasional presence of this visible glory was exceedingly precious to the chosen people. The terror felt by [witnesses] was the natural awe ever felt by man when brought into visible communion with the dwellers in the so-called spirit-world.”
These passages are mystical passages. They are beyond our normal experiences. They don’t make sense in the material world. They ask us to move beyond what we know into holy mystery. They ask us to believe that God, Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the angels – when in their divine state – pulsate in an intolerable brightness, a divine light, which we call the glory of the Lord or the glory of God or the light of Christ.
Since the Season of Advent, the scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary have used the imagery of light to describe who Jesus Christ was and is and what he came to Earth to do. I have preached about the light of Christ more than once during these months. As I read this Sunday’s scripture passages, the image of divine light jumped out at me again. “Light,” I thought, “divine light. I have to preach on this again! We need another dose of light!
I have realized that I focus on the imagery of light a lot as a Christian and a pastor and a spiritual person. When I pray for people, I ask God to surround them and fill them with the light of Christ. I tell people who need support that I am sending them light and love. One of my favorite prayers is St. Augustine’s, “Jesus Christ, Inner Light, do not let my darkness speak to me.” The truth is, I have worried about this tendency of mine to focus on the divine light. I have wondered if it is Jesus-the-man enough. There are many ways to describe Jesus: lord, savior, Christ, friend, teacher, healer, bread, vine, living water, potter, bridegroom, shepherd, morning star, the alpha and the omega, and so on. Maybe I should use more concrete names or imagery, like friend or shepherd. But, I tend to default to “light” and “the light of Christ.”
This is why I was grateful to remember the book about spiritual types! “Amy,” I said to myself, “you tend toward a mystic spirituality, which is legitimate and totally fine!” And, now, I say to you, “You, also, likely have a type of spirituality that you tend toward.” There are three other types: a head spirituality, a heart spirituality, and a kingdom spirituality. (We can learn about them together, if you want to.) And, they are all legitimate! We each relate to the divine in ways that are meaningful to us. Some will talk to Jesus; others will focus more on God when they pray; others will call on the Holy Spirit; others will dwell in the light of Christ; and others will mix it up! A quote by John Macquarrie, from his book, Principles of Christian Theology, states, “There are many ways toward the vision, but the vision itself is one and exercises a control over the plurality of spiritual disciplines.”
So, today, during our prayer time, come for prayer with whatever way you prefer to connect to God. And, Rose and I will pray with you with whatever way we prefer to connect to God. As Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (12:4-6). We pray to the same Father God, inspired and sustained by the same Holy Spirit, through the redemption of the same Beloved Son. May the glory of the Lord shine within us and around us as we pray, for God is here, even now. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, February 26, 2017, Transfiguration Sunday.
 The Alban Institute, 1995, p. 41.
 Ware, page preceding the Contents page.