Karen Ann Wojahn
Oh! To heed the wind's wild call
Not just above the mundane matters of my life,
Above the lowliness of my own mountaintops.
To spread my wings and--
like the mighty eagle--
Take to the wind-blown heights
I've yet to know.
"Set aside such lofty visions!"
Other voices cry.
"We have no wings!
You were not meant to fly!"
Why, then beckon me to glide
Am ill-equipped to ride the clouds and sail
To bank and dip, to loop-the-loop and ride the beam?
"But dreams have wings!"
The Wind still calls to me, and
Shouts to my earth-bound soul--
"Come fly! Come fly!"
Too often, I find that people confuse transformation with transcendence. Transcendence is that somewhat out-of-body experience of pure bliss. I have experienced this on occasion in response to beauty, love, relationship, music and various spiritual encounters. Let me tell you – when this happens I just don’t want it to end and when it does, I want more. While these numinous occurrences can change our perspective on life and beyond, the moment begins to recede as everyday life ebbs back into the forefront of our consciousness.
Transformation, on the other hand, is a result rather than a response. It is the result of hard work that ends in the death of something malignant to make room for new life. It makes sense that the butterfly was chosen to be a symbol of transformation. But while we are all caught up in the beauty of the end result, there are a whole bunch of caterpillars going through tough times with no clue as to the meaning of their struggle.
You can see why it is a whole lot more fun to chase transcendent experiences rather than to stay put and work through the process of transformation. Transcendence is a spiritual adrenaline rush and can become addicting. And like all addictions, we become depressed and disillusioned when that good feeling eludes us. And so, people church-hop, fill their weekends with retreats, buy more books than they will ever read and click on every Internet link that promises an express highway to permanent bliss.
Transformation is, to quote Eugene Peterson, “a long obedience in the same direction.” We stay present with our lives. We are honest about the patterns of thoughts and actions in our lives that do not serve us. We desire to be our authentic glimpse of the image of the Divine. It is mindful-attention that allows us to make moment-by-moment choices that support our intention to transform. As with the caterpillar we have to intentionally weave our cocoon. And, anyone who has watched a cocoon, anxiously anticipating the butterfly, knows that metamorphosis takes time.
It is during this vulnerable in-between stage that love, compassion, forgiveness, grace and mercy become precious refreshment. Gradually our unique and exquisite wings begin to open. As we experience the freedom of flight in one area of our life, it is motivation to discover what other wings are waiting to be set free.
When we embrace the practice of transformation we can inwardly relax, creating a gap for insights – those “ah-ha” moments to occur. Some of them are even transcendent.
- David Milligan
I don’t always walk to work, but when I do I experience moments that lead to transformation.
Some mornings I wake up to the firing squad of very specific regrets and very vague insecurities, which stay with me like a posse through coffee, morning news, and Facebook. They walk the dog with me.
Then I set out on the walk to work. I remember what the artist Joseph Beuys said he did and recommended others do in the morning: find an object very close to you and focus on it, then look up to find the thing you think is the thing farthest away from you. This simple act feels like a wordless prayer, a meditation that changes perception and can be completed in a heartbeat. When I do this I find my posse stops for a minute to look too. We see a candy wrapper on the sidewalk. We see the changing colors on the side of the mountain. We, the posse and I, start to notice other things. They get distracted and finally skulk off when they lose their footing.
Walking block after block the things I notice become the lines of a poem, an inventory of joy and mystery:
- One crushed black rubber glove
- A woman standing with an empty umbrella stroller
- A pile of sunflower seeds
- A boy on a bike crossing Irvine against the light singing what sounds like a show tune
as loud as he can
- A torn piece of notebook paper that says : Love Heart U - Samantha
I puzzled over the note wondering if Samantha is the lover or the beloved, and if the note reached its intended either way.
How does attention to these mundane things spark transformation? Seeing, wondering, and imagining immerse me, to quote a recently posted essay, in the process of shedding old skin – the old skin of looking inward and choosing familiar, destructive routine instead of seeing evidence of life and grace around me. Once that skin is peeled away I am free to feel the moment of transformation.
And I am glad Samantha has love in her life.
- June Waters
Like many people my age, I grew up on some pretty specific TV images, including the TV productions of Peter Pan and Cinderella. My images of transformation were images of magic: Wendy Darling and her brothers gaining the ability to fly via pixie dust, Cinderella becoming the belle of the ball in her glass slippers after her fairy godmother waved her wand a few times.
There are a few problems here. First, these transformations had limits: pixie dust wore off; Cinderella's coach turned back into a pumpkin at midnight.
Secondly, these transformations were instantaneous: poof! A wave of the wand, and a rat could become a footman.
Real transformation - the kind we're talking about in the light of Easter - is harder than waving a wand, but more permanent than pixie dust. And Easter points the way to real transformation.
Transformation is not precisely the same as change: we change all the time, being bumped along by our life experiences, and we learn how to avoid a hot stove and enjoy chocolate and what it's like to receive and give a kiss.
"Transformation" is more akin to dying and rising, or shedding our skin and growing a new one; it's more like peeling the layers of an onion. We are transformed "by the renewing of our minds", as the Apostle Paul puts it; we are transformed when something in us dies.
"When I was a child," Paul writes," I thought like a child, I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child; but now that I am an adult, I have put away childish ways " That's transformation. And as followers of Jesus, we willingly undergo many deaths and resurrections in order to become more like the one we follow. We learn to let go of our most selfish actions and replace them with actions that help to heal the world around us. We learn to put aside our overly black-and-white pictures of the world, the ones with the stick figures labeled "us" and "them", "good" and "bad", and we learn to see gradually that God's grace is for everyone.
Transformation is a lifelong process, and as we grow older, we learn to embrace this process as the work of God's Spirit within us, helping us to answer Christ's call to follow where he leads. And without a doubt, where he leads us is through the valley of the shadow of death into the bright morning of Easter, over and over again.
- Kay Sylvester
What does TRANSFORMATION look like in the wake of Easter, our celebration of resurrection in all areas of life? The ultimate example I can think of is parenthood. Parenthood brings about a major overhaul in all areas of the parent’s life.
Motherhood has initiated me into a whole other experience of myself. My priorities are radically upended. The depth of feeling that my heart is capable of is exponentially increased, both for feelings of love and affection as well as terror and grief, should anything happen to my child. Some aspects of this transformation are grueling, maddening, aggravating beyond measure. Motherhood is, hands down, both the most marvelous and the most difficult and all-consuming job I’ve ever had. And it is 100% worth it!
I’m struck by the fact that this transformation, while bringing me greater joy and meaning in life than I ever knew possible, is simultaneously saturated in struggle. We never, ever “arrive” at some stage in life where we cease to struggle or suffer, and parenthood makes this point painfully obvious. The story of Easter likewise highlights this paradox: we live with both the celebration of Resurrection while fully aware that it does not sweep away the ongoing struggle of life or magically solve the world’s problems.
I wonder if we sometimes miss the presence of transformation in our lives because we are distracted, irritated, or disappointed by the ubiquitous presence of struggle or pain. May we grow in our awareness of the precious gifts of new, transformed life all around us. Embrace resurrection!
- Cassie Lewis