August 5, 2015.
We were some 12 friends assembled at the simple Kudil-hermitage in the forest like Munnarmukku near Peermedu in the High Ranges of Kerala. We were there for a meditative get-together and group reflection on the theme “Nature and Transfiguration” on the eve of the Feast of Transfiguration of Jesus..
Some of us were priests, some deacons , others young university students and still others middle aged lay persons. The sky was mostly cloudy with intermittent monsoon rain, and the cold wind was blowing with a hushing melody. The playful gushing of the two forest streams down the hillock could be heard in the silent gaps of our conversation.
Once we cleaned up the hut and the courtyard dotted with cow dung and wild plants, we moved to the chapel, (which had also been used for rest and rumination by local cows during our long monsoon absence).We began our meditative conversation with the “architecture” of the chapel of Transfiguration we were sitting in. Over our heads was a simple and fragile roof made of bamboo, and thatched with dry grass and coconut palm leaves – very much like the houses of poor farm workers in the region. It was in a crude dome-like shape. Sitting on our floor mats in the chapel we could look at the verdant hills and valleys around because of there were no walls for the chapel, just 12 bamboo poles to support the roof . So we could also see the dome of the sky far above and around us.
Two Domes and no Dome.
We started a discussion on the two domes- one just above our heads, and the other the sky dome. (the word dome comes from the Latin Domus meaning a house)
The first one is extremely flimsy. A strong wind can blow it away though it is firmly attached to the live mango tree that serves as our Altar Cross . The frail roof will wear out with time anyway. No permanent shelter was intended when it was built.
The other dome is that of the sky – the cosmic dome. It looks as if it is covering and protecting the earth like a vast roof. It is, however, just an appearance. If we go up it would recede like the horizon. In fact there is no such dome. it is only vast space out there that we cannot comprehend. The sky is not a covering that hides us, but an openness that reveals to us the infinite beauty and mystery of God’s creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky above proclaim his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
In fact, there is no solid roof over us. We cannot take refuge under the roof of our house, however strongly built, nor under the marvellous sky dome that astounds us. Are we then thrown into utter nothingness, exposed to an absolute emptiness of existence? No certainly not. we are only reminded that all our protective solid roofs under which we take refuge are like the roof of the chapel we are sitting in- temporary and vulnerable, unreliable and nebulous, shaky and insecure. We are, in fact, thrown into the infinity of God’s protective love. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).
In the absolute existential nothingness that threatens us, God , like a compassionate mother bird, unfolds her wings and shields us from all evil and the fear of death.
We then shifted our meditative attention to a humble little plant with tiny flowers that was growing on the side of the chapel. We remembered what Jesus taught us about the lily of the field. “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow.; they neither toil nor spin. Yet Solomon in all his splendour was not dressed as beautifully as they are”. (Matt. 6:28-29). We reflected on arbitecture, the architecture of trees and plants and even moss. (Latin arbor means tree)
We talked about the “microscopic” vision of Jesus who could see exquisite designs and amazingly beautiful patterns in the tiny wild flowers of the field. Nothing is insignificant in God’s creation when we look at it with God’s eyes. Every tiny speck and atom carries astounding mystery and beauty. We simply need to develop Christ’s perspective and vision in order to enter the world of marvels…
We had to meditate on the leeches too. They are aplenty in the wet ground and mud paths in the hilly areas in the monsoon season. The Kudil environs too had them. Some of us were bitten by the small blood-sucking leeches on our way up to the Kudil-hermitage and chapel. These are very discreet creatures. We feel no pain when they bite. We can remove them easily by applying common salt when they cling to our feet and legs. Of course, there will be a slight issue of blood at the biting spot, because their saliva contains an enzyme that is anti coagulatory. So the positive side is that it is good to be bitten occasionally as it helps people with heart disease, migraine and some other illnesses!
August 6. Feast of Transfiguration.
We had the holy Eucharistic liturgy in the Transfiguration chapel. On the previous evening we meditated on the mysterious potential of even “dead ” matter to produce blinding light and immense energy when we penetrate to the nuclear level of our material universe. The most negative and destructive dimension of this property was seen in Hiroshima for the first time in human history. Incidentally the Feast of Transfiguration and the first ever atomic bomb explosion fall on the same date. The Feast celebrates the dazzling light that transfigured the physical body of Jesus on Mount Tabor to the ecstasy and abundant life of its witnesses. The Hiroshima day reminds us of the power of devastating energy in the form of radiation, heat and light, violence and life-destructive impulse unleashed by the powerbrokers of this world on all forms of life…..What a sad contrast!.
Yet we believe in the power of true Light that came to us in all humility and weakness, with deep compassion and the power of healing – Christ the light of the world that can transfigure us and all creation to help us participate in the Supreme Good, in the very nature of God, our Creator. As we celebrated the holy Liturgy under the mango tree, on the altar of the block of stone, all veiled in the early morning mist, the edge of the hill to the east of the chapel was visible through the wide opening above the flimsy bamboo wall of the altar. Suddenly the sun rose with dazzling splendour above the hilltop, and its radiance illuminated the chapel. The chief celebrant Father Yuhanon Remban of Orthodox Theological Seminary read out the Gospel narrative of Transfiguration of Jesus from St Mark. What a holy reminder! (kmg)