Monday, July 21, 2014
The Signature of all Things
Good Shepherd, Berkeley 6/1/14
Our readings today are literally full of glory. Jesus prays that God might glorify him, that he might, in turn, glorify God. “Glory” is an incandescent word- full of beauty, full of light- but I wondered- what does it actually mean?
The Hebrew word for Glory is Kahad, meaning “weighty” or “important.” This was translated to the Greek Doxa, which has the sense of power, splendor and light. The English word we ended up with, “glory” comes from the Latin word Gloria which means “fame or renown.”
The most common manifestation of the glory of God in the New Testament is that of brilliantly radiant light. The glory of God broke out into ordinary time with Jesus at the transfiguration, when “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Mt. 17:2) In another gloriously stunning image in The Revelation to John, we read of Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem which is “bright with God’s glory, with the radiance of a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.” (Rev. 21:11) Paul called Jesus the Lord of glory, and wrote that the glory of God shone from his face.
But John’s gospel is truly the gospel of Glory. From the gorgeous opening hymn we hear, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) And then, throughout the gospel we read over and over again of God’s light, God’s glory, until the prayer in John that we read today, which is so very drenched in glory.
Jesus prays that the disciples will be protected, will be granted eternal life, will share in God’s glory.
Jacob Boehm, a 15th century German mystic wrote a book called The Signature of All Things. In it he postulates that God had hidden clues for humanity’s betterment – little blasts of glory- inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, shell pattern, and tree on earth. All the world is a divine code, containing proof of our Creator’s love. God had pressed Godself into the world and left an imprint, a signature there for us to discover. But he said we have to move through fire in order to learn to read it. Could this be another definition of Glory, these cryptic illuminations God left us? Does God glorify us by imprinting God’s bright image upon us?
As we ourselves are creatures of nature, perhaps we already carry these imprints as well, perfectly decipherable if we allow the chaff to be burned off.
I have of late, and for the past two years since my scientist father died, seen something of great glory in the revelations of science. Science seems to reveal how many ways God leaves a signature on all things. Every atom flares forth photons- little units of light- electromagnetic energy- little blasts of glory- whenever it is somehow transformed- when it passes through the fire of transformation.
So everything, as it is transformed, is illuminated, is radiating glory. Surely Jesus, so full of light, was beginning his great transformation at the time of our Gospel reading- and he was heralding the transformation about to engulf the disciples. He tells them of the glory to come in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." He says this just before he ascends, like a ray of light, and vanishes into heaven.
Jesus prays to God, “you have given me authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given me. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Time is a flexible thing in the realm of glory, as in the realm of science. It seems that eternal life is not immortality- not a life that never ends in temporal time- it is truly knowing the eternal God- knowing God’s imprint, God’s signature on all of things, but first and most illuminatingly, on God’s natural son, Jesus the Christ.
God has been glorified because Jesus has taught the twelve to recognize the eternal God- to know God in creation- to see light in everything, to see God in each other and all their sisters and brothers, no matter their station in life.
Hildegard of Bingen, the astonishing 12th century Christian Mystic said, “every creature is a glittering mirror of divinity.” In terms of John’s gospel, this is the light of Christ in every creature.
Every atom has the potential to generate a photon, but it must be in a transformative process- either being heated or in collision with another atom.
In other words, in order to create light- to create glory, atoms, and we, have to go through transformation, through the fire, through the light.
One of the physical properties of light is that it has no resting mass- it suggests perfect freedom- it weights absolutely nothing- it is weightless! How far we have traveled from glory’s original Hebrew meaning of “weighty!” Light travels with unimaginable speed- 186,000 miles per second. Light exhibits the properties of both wave and particle and so it is best described by quantum mechanics, because we do not understand light anymore than we understand glory. Light is brilliant, weightless, powerful and can travel anywhere, only occasionally getting trapped in black holes, as we all do.
And of course, when matter is transforming, like wood to glowing coal, light results.
We here at Good Shepherd have, of course, gone through the fire. What has it taught us? What light has been shed? Do we now see the signature of God in all things? In more things than we used to? We were able to see the holy, even the glory in this modest parish hall almost immediately. And I noticed that the Episcopal force field, that normally surrounds all our churches was transformed in our case, perhaps even disengaged, and we have welcomed new faces, and we have seen the light of Christ in them.
We have strayed from our own small world to glimpse something larger, and we have experienced a surprising kind of energy- a surprising kind of freedom, a surprising kind of glory; we are being transformed. As St. Paul so beautifully put it in his second letter to the Corinthians:
“Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into God’s image from one degree of glory to another.”