February 11, 2024 “Transfiguration: Let Your Light Shine”
Lisa Wiens Heinsohn
Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given February 11, 2024
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9
Let me ask you what may seem like an odd question given where we are.
Do you believe in God?
Let me ask you another question.
Have you ever truly experienced God, in a way that moved you past belief into knowing?
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard it said that the enemy of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty. How can finite human beings ever fully know the divine in a way that does not need to keep growing and changing?
But that doesn’t mean we all need to remain safely agnostic, keeping the experience of God at a distance. Our tradition says we are all made in the image of God. If we take this seriously, then there is something of the divine at the core of who we are. God is not entirely outside of us; that of God is within us, too. And so God is not far away, inaccessible, beyond all ability to know. God is closer to us than our own breath, than our own name. God is within us, and can be known.
I’m speaking about this subject because of the strange, almost mythic story of Jesus on the mountain with his three closest disciples in today’s gospel reading. Jesus has such an experience of God that he visibly changes and becomes radiant and illuminated. His disciples see him speaking with their ancestors—Moses and Elijah—both of whom had encountered God directly, and were utterly changed by the experience, according to their tradition. You might think I’m crazy, but I believe it would be such a mistake to think this is an experience utterly inaccessible to any of us. There are things we deeply know that are so sacred, and so powerful, but also perhaps so contrary to what the culture around us describes, that we don’t always trust the quiet wisdom that arises from our hearts. But it is there. And we can bring it forth.
I have a relative who was born physiologically male, who gave me permission to share this story with you. At age three, this relative said they could not wait to grow up and have babies. Each and every time they played imaginary games with their brothers, they always chose female characters and names. They grew their hair. They wore pink. They played with dolls. When they were six years old and I asked what they would like for Christmas, they said, “a pink or purple dress, any kind.”
At the time, their parents allowed and supported some expressions of gender fluidity. The father bought a pink water bottle in solidarity with his child. At first, they did insist that the child wear traditionally boyish clothes and identify as a boy. Slowly they allowed more self-expression. Finally, when the child became an adolescent, they came to their parents and said, “Mom and Dad, I am not a boy.” The child ultimately identified as female. She claimed who she had always known she was, even though nothing in our culture invited this or made it safe. I am so happy to say that her parents met her with affirmation and support and love. She changed her name to Gwyneth Amber, which was the name she always used in playing with her brothers, and she made other choices that honored her innate sense of self; the self that was within her from the beginning, but that only she could see and advocate for.
My experience of Gwyn is that since she claimed who she was she has been radiant. She has glowed. She still has a long journey ahead of her, but it’s a journey that she will make on her own terms. When I asked her what she would feel about my sharing this story with all of you, she said she would be so honored. She is still a teenager. I think this is incredibly courageous of her. In some ways the light pouring out of Gwyn, the joy of claiming who she is, reminds me of the story of Jesus on the mountain.
There is a core, authentic and sacred being inside each one of us that was given to us by God, and when we claim and own who we are, we glow. Author and spiritual activist Marianne Williamson says this:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are
Powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness,
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world…
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we
Consciously give other people permission
To do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our
presence automatically liberates others.
Lest you think this is just a bunch of New-Age woo-woo, our tradition and scriptures are full of this insight. Jesus himself told his disciples, “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before others that they see it and glorify God.” It is said that second-century church father Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Quakers talk about the “Inner Light” which they believe is the “something of God” that exists within every person. Did you know that in Quaker meetings, there is no sermon, but everyone sits in silence, and each person is encouraged to speak from their Inner Light—believing that God grants each of us wisdom and that we should share this wisdom with everyone?
For Christians, Jesus uniquely represents what the healing, loving, liberating face of God looks like in this world. But that does not mean that we do not also have the vocation to embody divine light.
It takes great courage to do one’s own deep work to heal and then offer one’s gifts to the world. It takes great courage bring forth from deep within you that which gives you joy and is needed in this world. This process of becoming who we most deeply are is not for ourselves. It is meant to be given away. Your deepest self is truly unique and made by God to be a part of the healing and wholeness this world needs. This is how this whole experience doesn’t become one giant manifestation of navel-gazing narcissism gone wrong. In fact, sacrificial love is sometimes the love that empowers a person to embody one’s deepest and truest self, to tell the truth in love without demonizing or doing violence—even and especially because that does often come with a cost.
This past week in a St. John’s Wednesday morning group any of you are welcome to join, Caron Stebinger shared something from retired Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston’s latest book. Bishop Charleston is a Choctaw elder, and his book is about how Native Americans have already experienced the end of their world, and they have wisdom to share with us about how to survive it. He says:
Believe in yourself. You are a prophet. . . .You have been chosen because you have been born. You are a prophet because you are awake. You are a keeper of revelation: a person with a thought that may create a new world. Do not hide that piece of the sacred tablet, for the time is short, but give it to as many as you can, as often as you can, until the apocalypse becomes a blessing.
Looking at each of you, you all have beautiful, shining faces that are a window into your soul, that place that has a story to tell, and that has listening to do as well. Mostly I think the stories we usually tell about ourselves can’t hold a candle to the light that is really in us.
Some of our teenagers are in pain because they can’t see their own light, or because others they love can’t see it. Perhaps some of the rest of you are in pain for the same reason. I am here to tell you how beautiful you truly all are. During this time in the life of St. John’s and the life of our city and nation and world, so much is at stake. Let us not make the mistake of being too small, or coming from a place of cramped criticism or petty judgment. I’m preaching to myself here too.
What is needed in this world is radical, and it involves being able to see past our own and other peoples’ small selves and into the vast light of God that lives within each of us. This is part of what our baptismal covenants mean, when we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all people.” It means we promise to look for and then encourage the divine light in ourselves and others—our truly best selves, the spark of divinity at our core. Let us be like Gwyn, who knew who she was from the beginning, and had the courage of a prophet to hold onto herself, to insist simply on being able to manifest in this world as who she is. Let us have the courage to speak the truth lovingly, without fear. Let us learn from her, and from our Brother and Healer Jesus, and let our light shine. Amen.
 Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.” Note: this speech has often incorrectly been attributed to Nelson Mandela, but as far as I can tell in research, it was Ms. Williamson who wrote it.
 Steven Charleston, We Survived the End of the World: Lessons from Native America on Apocalypse and Hope (Broadleaf Books, 2023), Epilogue.