I do not need to explain again why we are calling our series on change “Metanoia!” but during the homily we introduced a new angle. If we think repentance we imply that we are doing fine, we are set in the right direction. We have a fall out, or a slip, but we repent, stand up again, and we continue on the same path. The change Jesus preaches about—what Lent calls for—is really more about a change in direction, a true U-turn, a conversion.
On the second Sunday of Lent, we always read the gospel of the Transfiguration—from Luke, Matthew or this year, from Mark. It is difficult not to focus on Jesus in this passage, as the Transfiguration is a glorious moment. His dazzling clothes inevitably catch our imagination. Scripturally, it is fascinating to see the connections between the Transfiguration, the baptism, and the resurrection. However, in our reflection on change, I suggest that we pay attention to the disciples Jesus has taken with him to the top of the mountain.
The text says they were afraid. The text says that Peter did not know what he was saying. The text says that the voice of God, which at the baptism had addressed Jesus (“You are my beloved Son”) now is addressing the disciples, “This is my beloved Son,” adding “Listen to him”—because they were not really listening.
What is happening to the disciples? Like us, they were afraid to change. Jesus is changing their worldview, their mental and spiritual framework. With the comment about building tents for Moses and Elijah (the prophet of victory) Peter is trying to place Jesus in the old framework—the Law and the Prophets—that we call Old Testament today. Jesus is breaking down their expectations of what the Messiah had to be like, and they cling to tradition, they cling to the past. They are like us, we also fear change.
Why we fear change could make for a long and not very original dissertation. We fear change because it makes us vulnerable. We fear change because it is easier to stay within our comfort zone. However, Lent calls us to deep change. A change that, I suggest, begins in our minds and takes a lot of mental strength. It is in our brain that we ground our worldview, our beliefs and behaviors. As we said last week, we can dream about changing the world, but that change begins in the only factor that I can control, myself, and there it begins by changing the way I think.
When I was beginning to think and plan this series, a book jumped out at me at the bookstore. No one told me about it, I just saw it and I had to buy it (I do believe this is an example of the serendipitous way God acts in my life). The title of the book is 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by psychotherapist Amy Morin. While it is a secular book, I thought it was profoundly spiritual. At the homily I joked that I was going to preach about all 13 items—which would have made for a long, long homily.
What I did is to survey a group of parishioners and a friend who is a psychologist. I asked them to choose three. Interestingly enough, they all chose the one we are preaching about: mentally strong people do not shy away from change.
Mentally strong people embrace change, sacrificing the false comfort of staying just where we are. There are multiple reasons why we shy away from change: we are creatures of habit; because change makes us feel vulnerable; because we fear losing control. But to shy away from change means also to shy away from possibility. It is foolish for us not to embrace change because change does not ask for permission to happen. As I read elsewhere, “If we always do what we have always done, we will always be where we have always been.”
Two more items in Dr. Morin’s book are related to this: mentally strong people don’t dwell in the past, what the disciples in the Transfiguration were doing, tents and all. It also connects with another of the book’s items, mentally strong people do not fear taking calculated risks, as change entails taking risks.
Change, again, is difficult. We can set ourselves to embrace change, but where do we get the strength for such an enterprise? Where do we think about what to change and how to change it? In Prayer. The prayer of Lent, silent and individual.
Again, what I found fascinating about the book is that while it did not mention God a single time (I think), while it is a “secular” book, I found it profoundly spiritual. It is easy to see how all 13 items can be thought about in spiritual terms. Interestingly enough, one of the items in the list states that mentally strong people do not fear alone time. Prayer—quiet and individual—is our spiritual alone time that we should not fear.
Being alone and being in silence are very challenging exercises, we are not used to them, our culture does not promote them. We have already reflected about the need to carve this Lenten Observance as a habit into our lives. When we do something, even difficult, for an extended period of time, it becomes an acquired behavior. Either we do not pray, or we pray without really praying. We often do the opposite of praying, that is worrying. While worry is a dialogue with ourselves over things we cannot control, prayer is a dialogue with God about things He controls already.
When we worry we focus on things we cannot control (another item in Dr. Morin’s list.) Worry is about the past, while change is about the now and the future. Lent is an invitation to change, to transform ourselves into the person God calls us to be. Jesus experiences the fullness of who he is on the top of the mountain. Becoming the person God created us to be requires embracing change without fear, a change grounded in constant prayer. This is the wisdom of Lent, a journey into becoming our transfigured self: the best version of ourselves. The person God created me to be.