Apparently, God’s marketing plan for Jesus wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. So, he did what any self-respecting spiritual entrepreneur would do, he held a promotional event.
Jesus just wasn’t getting the traction God wanted. His tattered and worn smock-like and ill-fitting robes together with tread-bare sandals and unshaven un-coiffed appearance tended to diminish the influence of his otherwise godly words. The modern-day rule, that the medium is the message, had yet to be realized. In today’s parlance, he had been trending but as an influencer his popularity was waning. It was time to rebrand Jesus.
In the gospels we learn that Jesus took a few of his pals including his disciple, Peter, James (son of Zebedee), and James’ brother, John the Baptist, up to the top of a mountain. (Mountains are always impressive venues for big promotional events.) This is where Jesus’ rebranding through transfiguration takes place. Matthew 17:2 suggests that Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Two other important pundits of the day, Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the law) also arrived just in time to witness what the disciple Luke described as Jesus’ new and obvious glory (Luke 9:32). “Spreading the Good Word” as is the calling of any dutiful Christian today, meant for that particular event these important opinion leaders would later provide street-cred for Jesus’ rebranded magnificence.
In Christian theology, the Transfiguration becomes a pivotal moment in the transcendence of Jesus’ stature as a divine philosopher placing him at the top of the charts among those focused on hearts and minds until the ultimate event—his crucifixion and resurrection—would complete the pillars of a belief system that has survived now for more than two millennia. The Transfiguration is widely held as the moment between what Dorothy Lee described in her 2004 monograph, Transfiguration, as the connection of the temporal and eternal placing Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth. A whiz-bang promotional event, indeed. God had nailed it.
Fast-forward to today. God, I have a suggestion. And, don’t act like you can’t hear me. Turn up your hearing aids if you must.
Behaving ourselves—living up to the Good Word—is, as I understand it, a prerequisite to pass through the gates of heaven, which apparently now-a-saint Peter has the gig of guarding. However, like the allure of airline frequent flier miles to affect loyalty, the incentive of be good and live forever in heaven is wearing a bit thin today. (I know you don’t need frequent flier miles, God, but have you seen how hard they are to redeem lately?) Maybe modern medicine is to blame keeping us alive way longer than in Jesus’ day, but being good in a world where so few are is starting to take on the odor of Black Friday deals where you pay more than you would have on Thursday. Today, it seems the path to wealth and power depends on how bad you can be. So, how about another trip to the mountain?
This time, let’s do one better. How about a new plot twist: how about heaven on earth? How about you let the really good ones enjoy nirvana without having to endure death and St. Peter’s pesky entrance exam? Maybe give Pete a rest? I hear he is growing a bit grumpy in his role, anyway. Just imagine the world-wide buzz: “God’s New Plan!” would go viral. (That’s a good thing.) Don’t just transfigure one dude, transform all of humanity! Ambitious? Maybe, but what do you have to lose? Let’s face it, the old scheme isn’t playing out very well. Even your Holy Land isn’t so holy these days, brother. (Apologies, I know that “brother” reference is perhaps too familiar of me. Kinda like a kid tugging on your beard?)
Anyway, what do you think? You’ve no doubt read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by now so tell me, what pound of flesh do you demand?
God speaks (in an appropriately thunderous reply): “Your ego! Give up your damn egos! Sit in the seat of your soul. That’s where eternal wisdom—the essence of heaven—resides anyway. (Harrumph.) Knuckleheads! Heaven on earth is available to you today as it always has been. Just rid yourself of your egos! Jesus didn’t have one, or I would have made him give his up on that mountain too.”
Taking that last step to transcendence—giving up our egos—is hard, but as hard as it is, it’s better than dying to get there. Doing it while alive is uncomfortable, to say the least. It means shedding yourself of the self that got you to where you are today. It means giving up notions like quid pro quo, or an eye for an eye, or the scarcity mindset of the win-lose paradigm. It means stepping off the treadmill of endless desires; of I wanna this, or I wanna that. It means as the Gods of all religions suggested long ago: forgiving others and ourselves for all of our wrongs. It means finding value in every being—human or otherwise. It means respecting the sacred connection between humans and nature—accepting that Nature is God.
To be certain, transcendence is a messy and uneven process. Glimpses of nirvana will be accompanied by moments of setback and yes, new transgressions that must be met with forgiveness all over again. But I believe it’s worth a try. Humanity today is facing its endgame. Our better angels are hard to find, but they are there. Not in the preening politicians, or screaming headlines and newsfeeds; rather, the person in the seat next to you on the bus; standing behind you in line; sitting quietly on the park bench. Goodness, like the potential for evil, resides in every human being. The good news is that doing good is much easier than doing evil. The rewards may not come as fast, but the outcomes may just save us all.
We all have been witness to the peril at home and abroad in the last few years. The in-your-face pain and agony are heart-wrenching. To cope, and perhaps even flourish, I composed a page of verse to keep myself in line and on track in my own pursuit of heaven on earth. Perhaps you will find it useful too.
Heaven on Earth
Settling into my core, the inner citadel
Aware, centered, and balanced
As a noisy world rocks,
All doors are open
while energy flows with ease
Unencumbered by worldly concerns
Humanity is history’s pawn
Home with all the love I have received
Home with all the love I have given
Home is where I am, wherever I may be
Battles left to fade in the dim light of yesterday
Victories and defeats become one
Regrets are now irrelevant
It is time to move through
Angels dance as I embrace surrender,
welcoming me to the other side
The urgency of life yields to calm transcendence
Serenity—my new lover
Clarity of mind is pure and easy
No more fear, no more anger
Losses appear like stepping stones on the path
to resilience and deliverance
Dignity thrives in the mercy of presence
The final liberation begins
where suffering ends
Pure love is all that remains
Alone but not lonely,
swaddled by a life well lived
Days marked by glory and grace,
nights by peace
Home is heaven
Heaven is home
Heaven on Earth
As light is hard to come by in this season of Winter’s solstice, my wish for you is to find solace in the darkness. To set aside fear in favor of hope. To find strength in the depth of resolve your ancestors provided as your special inheritance. To find mercy around every bend. To be there for what you believe and for whom you love.
To set your ego aside and settle into your soul.