Jesus’ Transformation

In the early 1900’s, the psychologist William James wrote “Variety of Religious Experiences”, the classic study of everyday “mystical” experiences. He recounts the transforming moments in people’s lives when they discovered deeply the presence of the divine in their lives and the impact such peak experiences had on them. They were found to be a relatively common experience among common people. Simply a surprising gift given without any concern for merit or learning.

Might not we suppose that Jesus, being the most human of human beings, must also have experienced such a peak experience that became a transforming moment in his life? I believe so. Therefore, I want to share the transforming moment in my life and attempt to draw parallel insights about Jesus.

In My Life. My transforming experience took place on a weekend retreat. I had brought to the retreat a lot of psychological baggage. On the first morning of the weekend, the presentation dwelt on our “persona”, the masks that we wear to hide our true selves so we can project a public self of self-esteem and confidence. During my meditation on this subject, I saw clearly the pockets of self-hate in my life as if they were on stage.

I became angry with myself that I had allowed so much self-hate to operate in my subconscious. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And suddenly I broke out into ecstatic joy. At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, Whom I called God, that all creation was lovable, that I was lovable. Instantly, my life vision was transformed—the way I saw myself, God, others, life, creation.

In Jesus’ Life. As Jesus studied the Scriptures to learn about God’s relationship with Israel and, more importantly, to learn about his mission and destiny, what must he have felt when he read the words of the prophet Isaiah 50:60 describing the obedience of the Lord’s servant? “I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face.”

Jesus was no dummy. He realized that those words applied to him and that he would become the suffering servant of God. Might Jesus have wondered to himself: “Is God a God of vengeance? Am I to be the victim of God’s wrath?”

I believe that it was only through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus came to discover God as Compassion Who loved all beings and creation with unconditional love. What the Old Testament did not reveal to Jesus, his contemplative prayer did. It was at that point in Jesus’ life that he must have come to know beyond doubt that God was love, that all creation was lovable, and that he was the beloved Son of God. In that moment, Jesus experienced transformation.

More than ever before, in that special moment Jesus began to enjoy the unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience, the experience of God as a compassionate Father. Perhaps too it was at that moment of transformation that Jesus decided to quit the quiet, private life ofNazarethand embark on his public life and divine mission.

Transformation’s Effects. Transforming experiences are empowering, because they are a kind of a death/resurrection experience—moving one from self-hate to self-love, from self-ignorance to self-knowledge, from fear of God to deep faith in God as Jesus experienced.

Transforming experiences are vision changing experiences. When I returned from my transforming experience, I saw people as persons. My attitude toward women changed dramatically. They were persons, not sex objects. I was aware that all persons experience the pain of being human, as I had, and deserved my compassion. Likewise, Jesus too had experienced the pain of being human and his newly acquired solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all persons. The driving force behind his mission would become compassion for others: he would liberate them from all forms of oppression.

Transforming experiences open our eyes to creation. When I returned from my transforming experience, I was moved by a deep eros for creation. I wanted to touch the leaves of trees. I wanted to feel the essences of things, such as trying to feel the essence of water that was real but could not be grasped. I can easily imagine Jesus at night marveling at the moonbeams shimmering on the Sea of Galilee, or being filled with wonder at the mighty olive trees.

This erotic awareness of nature soon became an awareness of the gift dimension of creation and life. Through this discovery of the gift dimension of creation I experienced creation reverberating with God’s presence, love and attention. Creation gave me the gift of God’s presence. I felt that I was surrounded by God’s love in creation. Likewise, from human experience we can deduce that Jesus must have experienced the presence, the beauty and the wisdom of God in creation.

Transformation and Spiritual Life. What is the nature of transforming experiences?  When we discover that Love is at the heart of reality, we discover that Love Center that resides within us at the core of our personhood and Who radiates out the energies of love through the pathways of our minds, hearts and wills, and makes everything lovable to us—we are lovable, others are lovable, creation is lovable.

For a short but ecstatic period of time, I felt driven by my Love Center, Divine Eros. I believe that Jesus experienced this kind of transformation, only he was able to hold onto it and to live fully a life of love. However, I have come to believe that such transforming experiences are not just one-time episodes in our lives to be enjoyed for a brief time.  Rather, they can happen many times and each time they once again disclose to us the  depths of our spiritual reality and set a goal for our spiritual lives.

It is as if each day our love capacity falls to the default position of our self-centeredness, and we must raise ourselves to God-centeredness. Each day, we must recreate ourselves from the inside out; we must connect with our center, our Love Center. Each day we must rediscover our Love Center at the core of our personhoods and let it radiate out through our minds, hearts and wills. Each day we must re-experience our transformation.



Integrating God in Our Lives

God dwells within us. God’s Spirit is our mentor, our guide, our inner force. We know all that. But how do we make this theological truth real and meaningful? How do we more deeply integrate God into our lived experience?

Prayer Approach. We can and should pray daily for greater faith in an indwelling God and his creative work within us.  Such prayer focuses our attention on our spiritual lives and the process of our becoming more fully ourselves through the Spirit.  This kind of prayer sharpens our expectancy for God’s involvement in our lives.

Faith Approach. We can accept that we are dealing with mystery. By nature, we are controllers. We want to control everything. We want to know everything before we act. We need a willingness to embrace mystery. When we invite God more deeply into our spiritual life, we invite mystery into our life. More importantly, we invite romance and creativity into our life. Let us act as if we believe, and we will grow in our belief.

Body-Person Approach. However, if we are going to integrate God more deeply into our spiritual lives, we must integrate God into that part of our lives where we spend the most time–in our bodies, in our life of the senses, in our sexuality. If we integrate God into the so-called spiritual part of our lives, we segregate God to a very small portion of our lives. So, to achieve greater integration, we are not necessarily being called to add more spiritual practices, but to seek the Spirit in our everyday lived experiences.

We are incarnational beings, body persons. And God respects our nature. Our bodiliness becomes the medium through which the Spirit empowers and enlightens us. The Spirit assaults our senses and our feelings through nature, music, art, dance, the true, the beautiful, the oneness of intimacy and the joy of community to awaken our heart wishes for personal and spiritual growth.

Further, our bodies offer a natural spiritual rhythm. For a moment think of a beautiful sunset, a great aria, exciting food. When we consciously become more deeply aware in our listening, in our seeing, in our touching, in our smelling, in our tasting, we enter the present moment. We experience time stopping, we experience a space in our consciousness for encounter. At this point we can idolize the object of our attention. Or we can transcend it and be moved to wonder at the experienced gift, to thanksgiving for the gift, and finally to the presence of the Gift-giver. Catch the rhythm!

If we act as if our senses are gifts of God rather than presuming they are standard operating equipment, we will have begun the movement from attentive awareness to the present moment, to wonder, to gratitude, to the Spirit’s presence. We can further reinforce our intention to live our lives spiritually by committing ourselves with some ejaculation such as: “I vow to look upon all beings with the eyes of compassion.”  In other words, we vow to be fully present in a caring and attentive way toward our own lived experiences—the same vow that Christ asks us to make toward others.

Living with our senses compassionately toward our lived experience enables us to live a life of gratefulness to God. Gratefulness is at the heart of our relationship with God, and therefore at the heart of our spiritual lives. For we possess nothing, not even ourselves. We come before God as people who have been gifted by Him. There is a gift dimension to our lives that surpasses our comprehension. Our senses bring us glimpses.

Wonder of wonders, the spiritual life becomes a life of compassion, awareness, presence, wonder, gratefulness and spiritual union. The self-help books tout their prescriptions for living such a fully human life. But only Christ lived that life. Best of all, He has given us his Spirit to help us attain it.