Transformation and the “V” Word


Lineman changing a transformer, from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation lately, and for a lot of different reasons.

One reason is simply because I work a lot of deaths when I’m on CPE each week.  In each of these, the families I minister to have just entered the beginning of a transformation of their relationship with the deceased person.  From the moment a person dies, the relationship becomes indirect.  The person they loved is dead–from this point on, their relationship with the person is through other people who knew them, through memory that fades in spots, through photographs, through narrative, and through God.

Richard Rohr likes to talk about how humans handle the emotional pain of life–they either transmit their pain to other people, or they become transformed by it.  When someone dies, that pain can get tossed around like a hot potato for a long time until it’s transformed–or it may never be transformed, which is an incredibly sad outcome.

Another reason my mind has been on transformation is our upcoming Gospel reading in the lectionary is the Wedding Feast at Cana–Jesus’ first miracle–where the water was transformed to wine.  (GOOD wine at that!)  I was thinking about how no one knew the water had been transformed until the chief steward drew some out and tasted it.  Likewise, I never really see my own transformations in this process when they are happening.  It’s always later, and often retrospective.  The chief steward knew it was good wine because of his experience as a chief steward–what he knew in the past about what’s good wine, what’s so-so wine, and what’s rotgut wine.

What I’m learning is that when transformation occurs, very little of it has anything to do with me, other than my willingness to be transformed.  I think a long time ago I would have put more emphasis on being in places and situations that encourage transformation, but that was just me and my control issues talking.  I can no more “put myself in a place of transformation” and take credit for it any more than I can walk in a barn and claim to be a cow.  Granted, it doesn’t hurt for us to do the things and be in the places that make us more open to transformation, but what I’m discovering is every thing I learn by negative example, every person who has hurt me, every thing I’ve done wrong has equal power to transform me as the things I did right or the times I’ve been in the right place at the wrong time.

What my CPE supervisor and I have talked about lately is the “V” word (No, not that “v” word!  LOL)…in this case, the “v” word is vulnerability.  I am clearly uncomfortable in pastoral situations where I don’t feel I “have charge” of the situation.  My supervisor is keenly aware that I see the world through sacramental lenses, and she brought this home to me in a way I could see it.  She asked me to recount what the priest represents in the liturgy.  My off the cuff answer was, “The priest has a dual role of representation.  The priest represents the people to God, and represents Christ to the gathered people.”

Well, to “represent Christ” that means the priest takes on the characteristics of Christ, and one of those characteristics is Christ’s vulnerability.  The Passion story invites us into a place of extreme vulnerability.  When I think about it as “learning to take on Christ’s vulnerability so the people can see it,” it feels differently.  I need to sit with that one some!


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