Out of the fifties, I beg your pardon of an old man’s trip down a musical memory lane – on the hit parade years ago was a most infectious song: Baubles, Bangles, Bright Shiny Beads. Those old enough will remember:
“Baubles, bangles, all those bright, shiny beads
Sparkles, spangles, your heart will sing, singa-linga
Wearin’ baubles, bangles, and beads
You’ll, you’ll glitter and gleam so
You’re gonna make somebody dream so…”
Sung by the Kirby Stone Four, this single made its way onto the top Hot 100 in 1958.
Initial attraction helps, but baubles, bangles, sparkles and spangles isn’t much of a guarantee for choosing a lifetime soul mate. What counts is the inner sparkle. The spangles of a vibrant soul.
One of the commercials for on-line senior dating shows a well-preserved, perfectly coifed older woman saying that she wouldn’t even know where to begin to start dating again at her age. The announcer says, just go to our service, open it up and start looking. Then shown in the ad, the woman is looking through pictures of handsome older men.
Crazy. Let’s see…the first two could be child molesters, then an ax murderer…maybe the next three are deadbeats and finally an income tax dodger. Or maybe a war criminal. It’s like my friend who was on her third husband or boyfriend. I asked where did you meet these guys. “In a bar,” she replied. Hmmmm…something wrong with the selection process here, ya think?
Today we celebrate some spiritual baubles and bright shiny beads. At least that is how, upon the mountain several of Jesus’ followers glimpsed him. Dazzling, sparkling, Christ of the Bright Shining Mount of Transfiguration.
Most commentary focuses on Jesus and his appearance in that episode, but one writer suggests that the focus might better be held on those accompanying him. It may be that the critical transformation is in them, their luminosity.
Irenaeus writes, “The glory of God is a man, a woman, fully alive.”
Let’s consider that this life changing moment which takes place in Jesus’ companions might be what is critical. What they perceived of the Risen Christ is inserted back into the story by the gospel writers. This written by those who themselves had been transfigured.
And what had they perceived? In Jesus, the presence of the totality of God’s revelation was at hand – God’s will for all creation. This is what Moses and Elijah were all about – the embodiment of Torah-Truth. In this bright shining moment, the power of both Torah and Gospel are present.
“Same Truth, More Light,” just as last Sunday.
That is the divine will for all creation, that we become fully alive, fully available to one another, fully available to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Fully in harmony with our place in the cosmos.
One of my friends thinks all this is too hopeful. Too illusory. It’s delusional — that too often, we preachers are living in an unrealistic fantasy world of the “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Preaching a gospel of fluff. And if it’s about being a glass-half-full person, then I plead “guilty.”
But from the witness of Christ through scripture and the blessing of the community of faith, from time to time, in moments, we do catch a glimpse of Holy Delight, Utmost Fulfillment. Love Incarnate.
One of my favorite authors, John Updike in his series of novels about Harry Angstrom, nicknamed “Rabbit,” follows his rise from late adolescence to become a modestly successful, respectable suburban businessman in the fifties. Though Rabbit has all the amenities and outward signs of success, he is most alone. In his emotional isolation, he is granted only a few moments of complete satisfaction, moments he might identify as a glimpse of the Holy:
For Rabbit, it is a perfect golf shot right down the fairway, the soft, round curve of a woman’s bottom, a successful business deal inked and signed.
These moments of sheer delight, of perfection, when we’re fully alive, when we inwardly sparkle, are indeed fleeting, but somehow make it all worthwhile.
You know them, a lover’s lingering embrace, the smell of Jai’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy – (actually, we make it together). The satisfaction of having made another’s day brighter, of working with dedicated team members on a project not one of us could have possibly done alone; a hymn that stirs the soul; the joy of giving to a cause at the moment of need.
And if you doubt the importance of those soft curves and that lingering embrace, go back and re-read the Song of Songs. It’s the one your Sunday School teacher might have skipped over, the one that might be up for being banned in some school libraries.
Various, fleeting glimpses of God’s Goodness, moments of vibrant Life – Life Abundant, if you will.
Recently, I saw a film that especially speaks to those of us who are getting on in years, especially us men who too often have lived rigidly prescribed, structured and baren unemotional lives.
The main character, Mr. Rodney Williams, played by Bill Nighy – definitely an award-winning performance — is a mid-level functionary in the government bureaucracy of the City of London. He is most unapproachable. Those who work under him are terrified of what his disposition might be on any given morning.
One afternoon, he is told by his doctor that his tests have come back and the news is not good. The cancer has spread and he has maybe six or nine months left to live at the most.
He is found that night sitting alone in the darkened living room by his son and daughter-in-law as they return from their work. As they prepare to rush upstairs and busy themselves with dinner and reading the paper, he hesitantly asks, “Could you sit awhile.” Of course, they can’t. They never have.
They are too busy, leaving the old man alone in the dark, most alone, as he relives various pivotal moments in his mind. His wife is long since deceased, he really has no friendships at work or anywhere else to speak of.
Dinner that evening is an emotional disaster, everyone walking on eggshells – completely disconnected from one another.
Eventually, he is able to share his diagnosis with one young woman who had worked at a desk adjacent to his, Miss Margaret Harris, played by Aimee Lou Wood. She has moved on to another job but he has looked her up. Enter also three women have been imploring his Office of Parks forever to turn an old abandoned trash-strewn parcel of land in their neighborhood into a park.
Mr. Williams becomes alive, maybe for the first time in his life, opening up emotionally to this young woman and also taking on the cause of this neighborhood park. He is now a man with a mission.
Go, see that film. And take lots of Kleenex with you and someone who cares for you.
This is a Gift of Life that is celebrated in this film. It is a perfect moment of spiritual renewal, of godly joy and deep pathos. This is the sparkle and bright shiny that radiated from Jesus, that radiated from all his followers infected with Transfiguration.
Too optimistic? Delusional? Unrealistic? I think not! It doesn’t mean that there is not tragedy. It does not mean that we do not suffer the evil of these days.
Yet in the midst of it all, we are granted fleeting glimpses of the Holy, available from time to time if we’re fortunate to behold them. If we’re paying attention.
It’s hearing the first cry of your newborn child. It’s that a life partner said, “YES.” It’s those Northern Lights flashing across the sky on a frigid winter night in Alaska. It’s unexpected flowers. The radiance of a smile. The greeting of an old friend. It’s that “you passed your Greek exam – by the skin of your teeth, Forney.”
In an instant, all is Transfigured – Jesus and we, the Church, however slowly. To our surprise, we find ourselves standing on Holy Ground. The message itself is Holy Luminosity. All is changed. Most of all, we ourselves.
What’s the alternative? I’ll tell you what’s the alternative. It’s no future. To live without hope, we end up like Jim Jones and his People’s Temple followers out in the jungle of Guyana drinking the Kool-Aid – a nihilistic, embittered end of self-destruction. Hell.
We can end up as zombies worshipping the so-called free market as wage slaves – in a winner-take-all dead-end future. Yes, the Former Guy was right about one thing, the system is “rigged.” If your parents were poor, chances are overwhelming that you, too, will die in poverty. Or die a “death of despair” – addiction, alcoholic liver failure or suicide. At a relatively young age. The youngest I buried was only nineteen years old. That rat-race existence will suck your soul out of your being if you let it. That’s what alcohol did to him.
Dante in his epic poem, The Inferno, describes the furthest reaches of Hell not as a place of flames but as a frozen, baren wasteland — a place where all souls, in icy rigidity are utterly cut off from one another. Utterly alone. That’s the Hell of NOT living.
Go see the movie. By the way, the Laemmle Theater needs your support if you live near Claremont. The bling will be in your soul. That’s the “fully alive” God intends.
This Transfiguration Sunday, the gift awaiting all are those inner bright shiny beads. Beats the Hell out of “despondent” and “down in the dumps.”
As we live connected to others, to our deepest selves, to our Maker, we become the ones who glitter and gleam so. As we live for others, we’re the bright shiny beads. We, surrounded in the splendor of those fully alive, are the Glory of God. True and Transfigured.
With the approach of Ash Wednesday, let us prepare to enter a Holy Lent. A time of reflection and renewal. And go see the movie, “Living!” And take a moment to “sit awhile” with someone who needs you. Amen.
February 19, 2023, Epiphany Last
“Bright Shiny Beads”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 2; Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9