A Slow Sort of Review


from Transfiguration
Fr. John Dear

When I first met the great Jesuit peacemaker and poet Father Daniel Berrigan, I wanted his advice about the life that lay ahead for me, but I didn't know exactly what to say. "What's the point of all this?" I finally asked him.

Dan took my awkward question seriously. "All we have to do is make our lives fit into the story of Jesus," he said. "We have to get our lives to make sense in light of the Gospel."

What a helpful answer! I never forgot it. The Christian life, I was learning, is fashioned after the life of Jesus. As his followers, we have t know his story, enter his story, and make our story part of his story. The Gospel, in other words, is the measure of our lives. . . .

If we dare listen to Jesus and follow him closely on the road to peace, I am learning we too are transformed, and at some point, if only for a moment, even transfigured. Our lives are changed into light and love, we realize that we are God's beloved sons and daughters , and we shed Christ light for others, guiding them through this world of darkness. . . .

Encouraged by the transfigured Christ , by our own modern-day Moseses and Elijahs, we take another step on the Gospel journey of nonviolence into the world's violence. We listen closely to the words of Jesus and put them into practice. We even find strength to carry the cross of nonviolent resistance to injustice and welcome the risen Christ's gift of peace in our hearts and in the world.

Fr. Dear goes on to say that this book-length mediation on the transfiguration comes out of his discipleship journey with Jesus. In a word, this is a personal story with a very narrow focus, not a bad thing at all, but a thing which must be borne in mind as one enters the book. Otherwise paragraphps like the last one above tend to curdle and sour perception (after all, is the entire gospel message about nonviolence?). It isn't that the Risen Christ does not give the gift of the peace (shalom) to His followers, but rather that the gift is not coextensive with peace--there is a great deal more to than the peace of nonviolence and nonaggression. Indeed, there is more to it that peace alone. Peace is, in a sense, a side-effect of the reconciliation with God effected by the sacrifice. It is a side-effect of inestimable value, but the real gift remains even if an individual never experiences the peace of Christ in any life-transforming way.

Enough with the quibbles. What is notable above is the resonance of the first couple of paragraphs. Fr. Dear's story has obviously brought him deeply into the story of Jesus and from his experiences, he chooses to extract a small portion and share with us the vision that he has from them. Taken at this level, the book promises a certain richness, a richness that often comes with the very limitation of focus. In general one can be a mile wide and an inch deep or an inch wide and a mile deep. Few written works approach both expansiveness and depth. (One I can think of is The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, but how many have even attempted that tome?)

So, if one accepts the premise of a laser-thin focus and meets the author on his own ground, so to speak, it would seem that both the differences and similarities of one's thought to that of the author would be accentuated. Where one agrees, agreement is likely to be profound, and disagreement and suspicion of conclusion is also likely to be deep.

I've only dipped into the book here and there and just started the reading. The prose is light and lively and the subject promises to be provocative. Hope to finish by Ash Wednesday and let you know more. In the meantime check out Transfiguration.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on February 13, 2007 8:13 AM.

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