Monday, February 11, 2013

What Mr. Rogers taught me about the Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Raphael
The son of friends of mine got a concussion right before Christmas. And then another one. After he got the all clear and came home from the hospital, he suddenly started getting seizures. His eyesight blurred and his speech slurred. He got excruciating headaches.

Tests showed nothing wrong. Doctors said that there was a miscommunication between brain and body: that the pain had no cause, but the brain was getting the message that it was there. Because there was no actual cause for the pain, they could do nothing to stop it. The pain was so horrible that his father prayed that he could die just to end it.

So you can imagine that I was drawn to the second half of the Transfiguration story in the gospel, in which Jesus comes down from the mountain and is met with a distraught father whose son is having seizures.

It seems to me there is very little to separate the transfiguration into glory and the transfiguration into agony. Both involve the removing of a veil. Both involve truly seeing the person that stands in front of you.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a video of Mr. Rogers being interviewed by, of all people, Joan Rivers. Towards the end of the interview (at the 6:00 mark), Rivers invited Mr. Rogers to sing "It's You I Like." He says, "I'll sing it to you," and she says, "Oh, no, I'll die." He proceeds to sing directly to Rivers,
It's you I like.
It's not the things you wear.
It's not the way you do your hair,
but it's you I like.
And Rivers, who has faced every kind of insult and heckling, building an impervious shell of self-mockery over a long career, proceeds to pull a sweater over her head to hide from the directness of being seen. And in being seen, I at least get a glimpse of a transfigured Joan Rivers I had never seen before.

Mr. Rogers, it seems to me, has an amazing gift for seeing the person who is standing in front of him. All the time. Every time. And I think the transfiguration is in the seeing of a person's true personhood.

Jesus' words in response to the father's plea are shocking, and at first I did not find much comfort there: "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" I found myself praying to Jesus what he was saying that for? And I don't know if this is the answer or not, I have nothing to back me up, but here's what I'm wondering:

I noticed that the father shouted "from the crowd." And one of the things he shouted was that he had "begged your disciples" to heal his son, but they couldn't.

So then I wondered, why was the father simply sent back to the crowd? How would it have been if the disciples had said, "We are sorry that we don't have the power to heal your son. Wait here until Jesus comes down and we'll talk with him about what to do."

I wonder now if the reason Jesus is angry is that He recognizes a group of people that do not see one another. When Jesus came down, did he truly see this man in his agony? Is he saying to the disciples and the crowd, "Why on God' green earth do you not see what I am seeing?" And to the man, "Bring me your son. Because I see you."

When I talk about being seen, I'm not suggesting oversharing. What I mean is, how can we look at one another and recognize there is a whole history there, of suffering and of glory, beyond that momentary encounter. How can we do a better job of truly seeing one another?

This is a very abridged (and somewhat changed) version of a sermon I preached yesterday. Your continued prayers for Robert are greatly appreciated. He is recovering, but there is a long way to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In response to your question: perhaps we can see each other better by listening.