Transfiguration literally means to alter the outward appearance of someone. We are familiar with transfiguration as a day by day occurrence because humans naturally communicate their emotions and inner states to each other through their bodies, particularly their faces . Transfiguration occurs as the presence of archetypes alter our outward appearance. In fact the archetypes, belonging more to the unconscious realm come present first in our bodies which are the canvas for the emotions and complexes. If you have ever seen a lover become transfigured as they look out with ‘love light’ in their eyes you have seen transfiguration; the glazed look in their eyes is a sign of them looking not just at their beloved by also through them to the archetypal masculine of feminine behind that person. And it is nearly as powerful to be on the receiving end of that love light. We have been looked at with adoration – as though we were gods ourselves. How intoxicating it is! It is though we ourselves can be transfigured by the way others see us as we begin to live into what the other sees in us. We ride on the wave of their love. Do you remember what it is like the first time you experienced that kind of love? How it expands you – makes you feel bigger and stronger.
We can also see transfiguration in a mother. I remember well the second trimester bloom of my children’s mother as she was pregnant with our daughter. This bloom is more than just extra blood flowing through the veins it is the coming present of the divine mother as the woman gets ready for the birth of the child. She begins to exude that mothering energy that makes people stop in the street and talk with smiles about the coming event or reach out and touch her.
Transfiguration may occur when we get drunk. As the conscious is confused by the alcohol it allows any archetypal force that may be present to come through. One person may be transfigured by anger while drunk, another by the lover. Not all transfigurations are beautiful, though. Instead of a lover, a man can be transfigured into a predator – one who seeks what he wants at the expense of a woman or a client. As attractive as the predator may appear at first he leaves the object of his wishes feeling used and depersonalized.
The process of transfiguration is central to spirituality. It takes what can be an just an intellectual idea and allows us to experience it in the body. It is one thing to think about detachment from our anxiety and yet another to have the Buddha energy take over our body during a meditation. It is one thing to believe in the power of love, another to feel it in one’s body as one gets caught up in worship of the God of love. When we invite these energies to become present in our bodies they subtly alter the way we habitually respond in the world. This is the power of spiritual practice, it is the journey of moving our lofty spiritual ideals from our imaginations into our everyday body experiences.
The religious myths of transfiguration are our guides to this process; they also train our eyes to see that behind every individual we encounter in life there is the image of the archetypal divine. Such is the well known story of the transfiguration of Christ which helps us to encounter the divine human in the person of Jesus and readies us for our own transfigurations.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (NRSV)