The Spiritual Selfie isn’t Helfie

The feast of the Transfiguration goes back to the early fourth century, when St Gregory the Illuminator substituted it for a pagan celebration of Aphrodite under the title Vartavarh (Roseflame). He kept the old name for the Christian feast because ‘Christ opened his glory like a rose on Thabor.’ It is an arresting image. When we read the gospel of the Transfiguration on this Second Sunday of Lent (Mark 9. 2–10), roses are usually nowhere to be seen. There are just bare branches, with a few little reddish buds showing where the new growth will come. The analogy with Lent is embarrassingly obvious. Here we are, trying to open ourselves to the grace of conversion but apparently plunging deeper and deeper into a sense of failure and sin. The promise of future growth may be there, but one has to look hard to find it; and in any case, we’re always being told that we need to take our gaze off ourselves and focus on Jesus instead. The spiritual selfie isn’t helfie.

While I agree with that, I think we may need to nuance things a little. The old practice of a daily examination of conscience, going over the events of the day and asking ourselves not so much what we did or didn’t do as where we placed our desire, what we wanted so much that it became the wellspring of our thoughts, words and deeds, is a good check on slipping into indifference. But today’s gospel asks more than that. It asks us to look hard and see only Jesus. That means seeing Jesus in ourselves as well as others, of having such a huge reverence for him that we simply cannot choose sin because to do so would be to profane his image in us. I have always loved the collect for today, with its invitation to feast interiorly on the Word — such a stark contrast with the fasting Lent lays upon us. The liturgy of the day piles paradox upon paradox, but the greatest of all is the fact that God became man and we, creatures of clay, now are filled with hope of the divine glory. The true selfie is all around us, ‘lovely in limbs not his’.


5 thoughts on “The Spiritual Selfie isn’t Helfie”

    • G. M. Hopkins:

      As Kingfishers Catch Fire

      As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
      Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
      Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
      Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

      I say móre: the just man justices;
      Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
      Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
      Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
      Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
      To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

  1. Thanks for an insight into today’s readings

    The sermon at our Eucharist challenged us to deny ourselves and to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. The preacher acknowledged that these were words that the disciples might have found it hard to take, let alone us today in a completely new context, post resurrection and ascension

    He contrasted the period of waiting for Easter with the different type of waiting – as we anticipate the coming, similar thoughts plague us in our world today, which Jesus contrasted with the ‘adulterous and sinful generation’ of his day, and despite the incarnation, much of our world still resembles that that Jesus spoke of 2000 years ago.

    Rightly challenging us to repent and to renew before it’s too late.

    Listening to others preaching is a useful education for me as I train to do exactly that on Palm Sunday – there’s a huge story to preach and to teach on. 🙂

  2. I read this after coming in from the garden from planting a rose! Planting it, and what you said in your blog, reminded me of Hopkins’ poem “Rosa Mystica”
    The rose is a mystery, where is it found?
    Is it anything true,? Does it grow upon the ground?
    It was made of earth’s mould but it went from men’s eyes
    And its place is a secret and shut in the skies.

    Hopkins wrote it at St Beuno’s – happy feastday!

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