Seeing as God sees: transfiguration in a 12-step recovery program
Many years ago, at a 12-step recovery meeting, I saw someone transfigured. The recovery group met in the basement of a church in an urban neighborhood on the East Coast. It was a midday meeting not far from several treatment programs and halfway houses, and some of those in attendance were there by court order.
‘This is my chosen Son; listen to him.’ (Lk 9:35)
Have you ever caught sight of God in another?
How do you let others see God at work in you?
One young man had attended every day for nearly a month. He spoke to no one, sat cross-armed the whole time, and kept the visor of his baseball cap pulled down low. As soon as the meeting was over, he was out the door. He kept to himself with such skill that, after a while, I stopped noticing him.
The winter that year was particularly cold, and in addition to those seeking recovery, the meeting space housed several homeless people to whom the church had given shelter. One day, an elderly homeless man stood up, cried out and grabbed his chest; he was having a heart attack. The young man, who had never so much as twitched except to race to the door, immediately leapt to his side and began C.P.R. He took control of the situation and alternated calmly between caring for the stricken man and sending someone to call an ambulance.
As I learned later, the young man had been a paramedic before drugs took over his life. When he saw a life in danger, his training took over and he acted to save it.
As I reflected on the incident later, I realized that—for just a second—I had caught a glimpse of that young man as God sees him: a confident paramedic, skilled in his calling, a rescuer of others. An opportunity for service to another drew the young man out of himself and showed us all a moment of utter beauty. The next time I saw him, he was back to his old reticence, but I never forgot the sight of his transformation, and now years later, when I cannot even remember his name, I can still remember that moment of wonder when he was revealed to me, when I got to see him through God’s eyes.
“This is my chosen son; listen to him.” In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Peter, John and James catch a glimpse of Jesus as the Father saw him. Faith had already brought them to belief; now they saw clearly. Luke also draws our attention to Moses and Elijah, who show forth a glory like Jesus and discuss his mission with him. Elements of Luke’s account refer back to Jesus’ baptism, but they also draw our minds ahead to the resurrection and Pentecost. Luke’s themes emphasize that those who accompany Jesus through his “exodus” will reflect his glory into the world.
If the transfiguration requires anything of our discipleship, it is to let go of our masks and let others catch a glimpse of God in us. Jesus’ own transformation was a proclamation of the Gospel; it confirmed the faith of the disciples who joined him. Likewise, as Lent continues, Christians undertake practices that help others see God at work and help themselves catch sight of those sometimes fleeting moments when God reveals the divine face in another.
This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Revealing God’s Glory,” in the March 4, 2019, issue.