I have never made a secret of it: I hate snow! I have never seen anything beautiful about it. It means uncomfortable cold. It is only burdensome and makes doing anything considerably more difficult.

Transfiguration

And yet, unlike things that I do like (like dogs) which get a bad rap in the Scriptures, snow comes out on top. Today’s New Testament Challenge brings us to the top of Mt. Tabor, where we witness, together with Peter, James, and John, our Lord’s transfiguration where “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3). Yes, when St. Mark was looking for a metaphor in order to express the brilliance of the divine light which shone through the humanity of Christ, he chose snow.

What is it about snow that makes it such a good image for the divine light. For one thing, the whiteness of snow is an active color. It does not float passively by, like the whiteness of clouds. Somehow it reaches out; it blinds you. In other words, the whiteness of snow causes a reaction in you. Your eyes automatically close because of the brightness. The same thing is true of the brilliance of the divine light. You cannot face even a glimmer of this light without having some reaction. The first response is to close our spiritual eyes–the light is too bright for us. But gradually, as we discover the divine light shining out of all sorts of sources, like (OK, I’ll admit it) snow, or the beauty of creation, or the wonder of the human body, or any of the myriad ways in which God reveals his presence through his creation, our eyes become accustomed to the brilliance, and it draws us in more and more to itself.

The scene on the mountain must have been breathtaking! Even in its retelling, the reader can still sense the awesomeness of the event. But, from the perspective of post-Pascha, both St. Mark and we ourselves can see the deeper meaning which the disciples probably missed. They were not witnessing God throwing off the human shell he assumed in order to live with humans. The divine light is shining through and in the very clothes he is wearing. The light of divinity does not destroy what is human; rather is makes that very humanity blaze with divine glory. We are not witnessing so much the revelation of God as the revelation of humanity–our Lord is showing us what it means to be a human being. We only know and understand fallen human nature; that is our entire experience. Only God can see humanity from the divine perspective; only God can know what it really means to be a human being. And so, we see that, if we want to be truly and authentically human, it doesn’t mean the self-absorption and self-aggrandizement taught by our pop psychologists and talk show hosts. It means being filled with the divine light; it means being transformed by the divine light; it means sharing in the divine nature, what the Orthodox call theosis. Only when our nature is united by grace to the divine nature, like Christ, will we become authentically human.

The other important image in this scene is the location. Our Lord takes his disciples up into a mountain. The transfiguration takes place at the top of the mountain, but, in order to get there, there has to be the struggle, the spiritual battles, crossing the narrow ravines and clinging desparately to the sheer cliff overlooking the fall straight down. It’s a difficult and dangerous path, one that pushes us way out of our “comfort zone”. But, then again, our Lord always does that, so that we will put our entire trust in him, that he will lead us safely to the glory at the top. If we only trust in ourselves, we will never make it. The struggle is ours, but the ability to struggle comes from Christ alone.

Who would have ever thought that snow could mean so much!

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