That Inner Glow

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus has been working miracles, going from town to town preaching the good news. He’s making waves in Galilee. People are starting to wonder if he might be the Messiah, they have all been hoping for. For a thousand years, the Jews have been waiting for God to send a champion who would become the head of their faith, and their warrior against their enemies. He’s been predicted in the psalms [1], Job called him his redeemer [2], Moses wrote about him [3], and so did the prophets like Isaiah [4]. This Messiah should have the power to defeat the Jews’ current enemy, the Romans, who are occupying Israel. Perhaps this Jesus of Nazareth with the remarkable powers and words is the one they have been waiting for.

Peter is the first to say this out loud. But Jesus has told him not to tell anyone, not yet. In fact, Jesus says, don’t tell anyone until the authorities have killed me, and I have come back from the dead. This is not what they want to hear. How can he be their Messiah, their warrior, their defender if he gets killed? Six days later, they get their answer. This man who has predicted his own execution is the one who is seen standing next to Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop. They represent the Law and Prophets. They had predicted a Messiah would come, and now he reveals himself to them, their hopes and dreams finally fulfilled. 

But Jesus looks different on this mountaintop. He is “transfigured.” That word means to be transformed. We’re told in Mark that his clothes shine a bright white. In the Gospel of Matthew, we’re told that his face shone like the sun.[5] Jesus is being filled with a heavenly light that means there is no doubt at all about whether he is the Messiah. Moses and Elijah know it now, and so do the disciples, who are astounded by what they see. But in a flash, it is all over. They are alone on the mountain again. Jesus looks no different than before. He no longer glows. His face looks the same. But these three disciples will never be able to look at him the same way again. They have seen his inner, heavenly glow. 

Our culture expects a lot from our faces. When we meet people, the first thing we look at is their face. That’s where we expect to see who they are, and how they are feeling. Are they smiling, or frowning? Are they happy to see us, or are we in trouble with them? To find out, we do a quick scan of their faces. It would be considered rude to meet someone and immediately stare at their feet or elbows, ignoring their face. Most children know to look at faces first, and most babies do this as soon as they are born. Autistic children don’t know to do this. Their teachers and families teach them to look people in the eye. We feel that if you want to know someone, the key to their being will be found in their face.

There are good reasons to focus on a person’s face. Your arm has 24 muscles [6], your leg has 13 muscles,[7] but your face has 43.[8] Our faces have evolved to be capable of 10,000 expressions.[9] We can show happiness, sadness, ambivalence, disappointment – pretty much every human emotion and feeling can be communicated in our faces. So, it makes sense that when we meet someone, it’s their face that we read first. The face is the window to the soul.

Our culture teaches us that we should look attractive, and our faces play a big part in that. So, we take care to “make our face.”  Men have to decide every day what to do with their facial hair, while women have to decide whether to put on make up, and if so, what kind. The striking lipstick that you wear on a night out won’t look right Monday morning at work. Society tells us to look good, and that means tending to our faces. 

But we also know from experience that there is a different kind of beauty that can be seen in a face. It is a beauty that can be found in any kind of face, of any shape, colour, or age. It is a form of beauty that shines from the inside out and illuminates the whole face.

We’ve all met people like this. When you meet them, you sense an inner light that shines outward. For some people that light shines all the time. For others, it appears when you talk to them. In my experience, the people who shine from within are usually people who are deeply passionate about something. There is something they love doing very much, and it gives them great joy. This passion can be for something simple like sewing or gardening. It can be a love of some kind of art. I have a friend who loves movies. She watches at least one movie a day, and she has a fantastic memory. She lights up anytime she talks about movies and is always sharing movie suggestions with friends. Her passion is movies, and it makes her life worth living. Others can find this passion in sports, in fixing up old cars, in model train sets. Among the Japanese, this kind of life passion is called Ikigai, and is often found among people who live to be over 100.[10]

Why should a deep interest in something be so energizing? I think it is because when we are passionate about an activity like painting or knitting or fixing things, we create little worlds, little areas of life where harmony exists. Quilters take useless scraps of cloth and make beautiful blankets. Someone at the cottage who loves to tinker takes some old junk and puts the pieces together so that a porch is fixed, or a machine works again. These passions allow us to make the world whole, even if it is just on a small scale. The Bible tells us we are made in the image of God, the world maker. When we piece things together, in our minds or with our hands, or with our bodies, creating harmony, we are being world makers, too. And that makes us happy. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, not every hobbyist has a happy glow on their face. There are grumpy stamp collectors, and bitter quilters. They may love their hobby and see the wonder in it, but they don’t see the wonder in the rest of the world. That’s where some spiritual practices can help. When we pray and meditate, we are taking time to quiet our minds, and commune with the divine energy that is the source of the harmony of the universe. It is like we are plugging into the source of everything. Particularly in meditation, as we quiet the mind and open ourselves to God’s presence, we are restored emotionally, even if we feel distracted by thoughts at the time. After meditation and prayer, we often see the world with new eyes. Simple things appear beautiful. The way a tree’s shadow dances on the ground as the wind blows. Flowers in a garden; a child’s laugh down the street. We feel the harmony and balance of the world that we don’t usually see. There’s a reason why long-time meditators look serene, and often have that glow. They feel the harmony of the world more often.

When we have a hobby or something we are passionate about, we are participating in a bit of the harmony that is present all the time in the universe as a whole. The more consciously we can perceive that harmony, the more joyful life becomes. In families you often hear people say things like, “Oh, don’t ask grandpa about old cars, because he won’t stop talking.” Well, that’s what he is passionate about, that’s where he has found the harmony of the world. That’s why he lights up when he talks about it. For someone else, it is in cooking, or interior design. It can be found everywhere because it is everywhere. And when you find it, it lights you up, from the inside, and other people can see it.

When Jesus is on that mountaintop, it is revealed that his love is for the whole world. Not one small part of it, not a hobby, but for the whole, astounding, world. That’s why he shines so brightly. He is going fulfill the promise made to the Prophets, by bringing God’s love of the world into human form. And he will make the ultimate sacrifice to show the world God’s love, by giving up his life on a cross. Because once you find the harmony of the world, you’ll pay any price to protect it.

Most of us are passionate for part of the world, not all of it. And the world tolerates our passions. We may get called eccentric for our deep dives into the things we love. But the world does not encourage us to speak up about these things, to go to bat for them. There are many people who love their cottages, who love the cry of the loon at night, the mist on the water in the morning. Yet, when there are marches downtown for the environment, it is mostly young people who show up. There are very few middle aged or old people there, the kind of people who own cottages and love fishing and nature. They have been transfigured by their passion for nature, but they are discouraged from showing up to defend it in public. Society tells us that protests are for young people and for radicals. But it matters to politicians whether 1000 or 15000 people show up to protest fossil fuels. It matters if the pictures in the news show all young people, or a big contingent of taxpayers in walkers and with canes at Queen’s Park. Showing up for what you are passionate about, for what brings you joy, showing up to defend it, can matter. That’s what Christ did. He didn’t just say the world was wonderful, he took risks to save it.

If we care about something passionately, Christ’s example suggests that we should be ready to stand up for it. To defend its right to exist. Christ did not stay on the mountain top basking in that light. He took it with him, down into the world, to heal and help. If you have found your light, your part of this beautiful universe, don’t let the world tell you to stay quiet and keep it to yourself. Remember that you are followers of Jesus, who acted on his passion for the world, and you can, too. For we have all been born into a harmonious, beautiful world, and it makes us happy when we are part of it. We are called to enjoy that harmony, and to protect it when needed. To let God’s light shine in us, and light up the world.  



[1] Psalm 2, 22,
[2] Job 19:25
[3] Deuteronomy 18:15-22: this sounds like Moses predicting Joshua, but the first Christians, including Jesus, saw it as a prophecy of a Messiah. See John 5:46, and Acts 3:22-23
[4] Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 42; Micah 5:2; Daniel 7:13–14
[5] Matthew 17:2
[10] Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, 2017.