A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying:
“Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer. And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?”
Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He answered, “Why not be totally changed into fire?”
I love the image of fire and light.
When I hear Christian terms like being “on fire” for God, or imagine what it means to “be the light of the world,” I get pumped. Like there is a way of being in which your soul is totally animated, in which you are fully alive. Like there is a way of being in which others get life simply by entering your presence. I know people that have this kind of life. And it’s not just about having a “fun” personality. It’s something more. Something intangible. I almost want to say “childlike.” Maybe it’s because I only see them in brief spurts. Maybe if I lived in the same house and saw them on the day to day, I’d get a different impression. Or maybe these images are just ideals…impossible to incarnate in the real world. But I want it… I want to be that kind of person, to live that kind of life. A life on fire and filled with light.
Sometimes I think about the story of the transfiguration, and others like it. In my review of The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, I quoted the following as a fascinating account of this kind. And the recollection hasn’t lost its intrigue…
The foregoing testimonies intrigue me all the more because I personally know a man who claims to have seen a human being transfigured into light. This is not for me a foaftale (ibid.), that is, it does not concern the proverbial friend-of-a-friend but comes to my ears from someone I know and have no reason to disbelieve (and who has refreshed my memory by kindly sharing with me his relevant journal entry)…In 1992 my friend John decided to seek initiation as a Sufi. The process involved having an audience with a Sufi master who was then making a tour of the States. The two men met in a small room for a short period of time. They sat face-to-face in lotus position. No words passed between them. But the occasion was memorable, for John relates that, after a bit, the master began to emit a light, which became brighter and brighter until it lit up the whole room, after which the luminescence gradually faded away, and the encounter was over.
But I’m not even worried about the physical…I’ll settle for the metaphor. I want to stop “keeping my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer.” There’s a difference between behavior modification and a transformed spirit. I want to be lit up.