The light on the mountain

Photo by Tyler Reynolds on Unsplash

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, commemorating the time when Jesus was transfigured before three bewildered disciples on a mountainside. The three synoptic gospels record this strange and mysterious event (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9: 2-8, Luke 9: 28-36). The Greek Orthodox Church refers to it as ‘metamorphosis’.

6th August also marks the 76th year since the United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, followed three days later by the bombing of Nagasaki. These atrocities ended World War Two's atrocities but humankind had opened a hideous Pandora’s Box.

In a letter dated 9 August 1945 to his son Christopher, J.R.R.Tolkien wrote:

“The news today about 'Atomic bombs' is so horrifying one is stunned. The utter folly of these lunatic physicists to consent to do such work for war-purposes: calmly plotting the destruction of the world! Such explosives in men's hands, while their moral and intellectual status is declining, is about as useful as giving out firearms to all inmates of a gaol and then saying that you hope 'this will ensure peace'. But one good thing may arise out of it, I suppose, if the write-ups are not overheated: Japan ought to cave in. Well we're in God's hands. But He does not look kindly on Babel-builders.”

Letter 102, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, HarperCollins

Two different sources of light: one heavenly, unearthly, transcendent and life-changing, as the Son of Man stands in the light of the sun and is transfigured by the divine light within Him and without.

The other? – an obscene counterfeit of transfiguring light, as men harnessed the power of the sun for mass destruction and utter desolation and horror.

We are living in deeply turbulent times. Not just the pandemic, but post-Brexit issues, toxic voices across the political spectrum, alarming reports about accelerating climate change, and the usual horrors that humankind continues to perpetuate every day: war, famine, injustice. I will not address ‘end times’ theology in this post, there are other places for that, but all Christians are called to read the signs of the times and to be spiritually alert and aware.

As Christian writers, whatever genre we write in, we can incorporate that awareness into our writing, however we choose to express it. That awareness need not be explicit: just to write about hope, faith, courage, is to write in the awareness of that heavenly light and to bring others into its circle.

I don’t know how many of you remember the BBC play ‘Threads’, broadcast in autumn 1984. Once seen, never forgotten, it portrays a nuclear attack on Britain, focussing specifically on Sheffield. It is deeply disturbing and harrowing: the special effects were astoundingly realistic and based soundly on science. The nuclear exchange is horrific but even worse is the aftermath: Britain, and presumably all of America and Northern Europe, has been bombed back to the Stone Age.

The film offers no hope or redemption because in that scenario there is none. What we see is literally Hell unleashed. We need hard-hitting writing like this: anyone deluded enough to think a nuclear war is winnable should be made to watch ‘Threads’ on an endless loop.

May we turn to the light on the mountain – to the supreme source of light, life, creativity and hope. A man transfigured on a mountain, a man for all seasons, the ultimate human being, the second Person of the Godhead, bridging heaven and earth, lifting us up to become sons and daughters of the living, eternal Light.

This is the light we are to walk in, the light that changes and transforms – not just us, but the whole creation.

That light can bathe our writing. In these turbulent times, we can step into its life-giving power, and offer it to the world.

I work full time for the United Reformed Church in their education and learning office. I’m also a licensed lay preacher in the Church of England. I wrote a devotional for the anthology ‘Light for the Writer’s Soul’, published by Media Associates International, and my short story ‘Magnificat’ appears in the ACW Christmas Anthology ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’.

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