When I was in seminary and the members of my class were preparing for ordination there was a Greek term, Ontological, that we talked about a lot. Ontology means the study of “being,” the study of who one is, at one’s most fundamental core self. The conversations we had involved what was going to happen to us, ontologically, when we were ordained? If ordination is a particular calling forth of the Holy Spirit making one a priest, and that once ordained one could never be unordained, did that not mean that one was changed, fundamentally, at one’s core self? Many wondered if they would actually feel changed. Most were sad to report that following ordination they felt no different from the day before. I have to say that the dominant feeling that I have had since being ordained a priest is an acute awareness that I am always a priest. It’s not the collar that makes me a priest nor the vestments. Regardless of where I am, what I am wearing, or what I am doing, I am a priest. It calls me up short sometimes and makes me mind my manners.
Back in the first century, when Christianity was illegal, priests were being forced to deny their faith or die. People began to wonder if Holy Communion still sacred if it had been consecrated by a priest who had denied his faith, was allowed to live, and then some time later returned to being a priest? This was a question about what made the sacraments sacred, the person of the priest or the Holy Spirit? Thank goodness they decided then that the sacraments are made sacred by Holy Spirit and not the person who is the priest. I will always be a priest but I’m a human being too. This doesn’t really let me off the hook but it helps me breath a little easier when my humanity comes out.
It is true, however, that I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit every Sunday when I am at the altar, my hands raised as we pray the Eucharistic prayer, calling forth the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Some days it’s almost electric, there is a felt sensation which takes me out of my body even as it places me squarely in it. The words I pray and the motions I make with my hands are just the medium for God to shine forth. You all are part of this too, in your presence and the words you say, the Holy Spirit pours forth. This is the beauty of our liturgy, inviting and engaging the congregation in the words and action of the calling forth of the Holy Spirit to transform ordinary bread and wine into grace, into love, into spirit food.
Likewise, our coming together, week after week, to pray, sing, and hold each other in community, is a calling forth of the Holy Spirit, transforming each of us into the body of Christ, that God’s light may shine through on the faces of each one of us.
Not only does God’s love shine on our faces, but God’s love shines forth in the way we share this building. The other day I drove past a church, it was about 3 in the afternoon. The lights were off, the building was dark, and all of the parking lot entrances had chains across them and signs saying, “Keep out! Private property!” It made me think of us, this building - no chains, doors unlocked, lights on, and most of the time, people every where in the building. But not only people in the building, but in three out of four seasons, people all over the property - sitting on the wall of the exterior plaza to read, bringing dogs to the fountain for a drink of water while on a long walk, cruising around the community garden looking at the vegetation growing inside, running their dogs in the back part of the lot, walking the labyrinth, or sitting for a while and just being present to the beauty of this place. This entire space is like a mountain top offering, where people can find respite, and perhaps even transformation.
In the reading from Exodus we hear that Moses’ encounter with God changed him. And Paul, in this second letter to the Corinthians writes that God’s presence releases people from spiritual bondage and intellectual blindness and boldly transforms people through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul knew this first hand from a walk he took one day in which he encountered God, was struck blind and then regained his sight, new sight, spiritual insight, for which he was changed forever. And Jesus has this amazing mountain top experience that confuses three disciples while the other nine, down below, are stymied in their effort to heal a boy because they cannot access that part of themselves that brings forth the Holy Spirit.
Whether one is having a Moses-like experience, or a Paul-like experience, or Peter, James, and John experience or even if one is having an experience of being stuck like the disciples who couldn’t cure the boy, regardless of the state of one’s awareness, one’s core sense of self holds within it the potential for transformation, from which the love of God will shine forth. Call it grace, call it hope, call it ontological transformation, whatever one calls it, the end result is the same, love is the natural, authentic state of our being. Love is our core because we are made in love by God who loves us just as we are. And yet, as soon as we become aware of the love of God in us, something happens.
Then, God loves us into becoming more than we could ever imagine.
(a reflection on the readings for Last Epiphany year C: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Cor 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43)