The Revolution Will Be Incarnated

revolution incarnated

Reflection for Second Sunday in Lent

Have you ever had an epiphanic experience? If you have made a lifetime commitment to your faith tradition, chances are you have had one if not several. These are the experiences in life where God seems to be lifting the veil and showing you (very often it feels like just you) the greater reality behind things. Words like synchronicity, God-winks or epiphany have been used to describe or characterize times when certain coinciding forces unveil a moment rife with infinitely delvable meaning. A vision of God enters our lives in an almost tangible way and finds us wholly unprepared. A special kind of euphoria is present there, one which we hope to return to again and again. No doubt for the apostles present with Jesus on the mountain, the transfiguration we read about in the Gospel was an epiphanic experience and more. It signaled an exalting, glorifying and profound spiritual change they hoped to preserve.

Great cinema has a way to generate epiphanic experiences in the viewer. A self-proclaimed cinephile, in college I wrote a poem about this experience of God during my visits to a Milwaukee independent theater. I love the cinematic experience. When I was in college, my Sunday trips to watch the independent or foreign film du jour were as diligent and liturgical as my trips to church. I’ve shown up to many midnight showings of new releases and I recently watched all nine 2014 Oscar nominees for Best Picture back to back. I then drove 6 hours to attend a Franciscan Earth Corps-Syracuse screening of the hydraulic fracking documentary “Triple Divide.” Great filmmakers focus with an almost Scotist fixation on the beautiful “thisness” of each element of the story. Consequently, they are sometimes able to elicit an epiphanic experience in their viewers. To hear them talk about their craft you would swear they were poised to start a worldwide revolution. Part of the magic of cinema is how vividly God’s voice within the film beckons us to “go forth from the land of our kinsfolk,” not unlike in the story of Abram. But with all the beauty inherent in every nuance of God’s creation and all the wonderful messages of great cinema, why does this revolution never seem to occur? Perhaps it is because, as the late Gil Scott Heron once prophesied, “The revolution will not be televised” and will likely require no ticket.

To those who have had an epiphanic experience, have you ever been successful in communicating your experience to someone else? Chances are 100% of us would give an emphatic “no” to this question. Though it may not be backed up by our hagiographies, Peter, James, John and probably all of our saints likely struggled to communicate ecstatic visions, even to their friends. “So yesterday we were on this mountain and suddenly our rabbi started glowing and talking to these major dead biblical figures.” Our modern friends might meet such news with psychiatric recommendations and uncomfortable social functions. So, when even Jesus is telling us “Do not tell the vision to anyone,” what do we do with the gifts that are our epiphanic experiences?

In reality, the indescribable nature of these experiences is likely what qualifies them as epiphanies. God has spoken to just you in a way beyond words. To wrap our head around the Reality revealed to us in our sometimes momentary experiences we will plausibly labor for the rest of our lives. Perhaps this is why some of us profess to religious orders: we have committed to do whatever is required to see the revelation specific to us through to the end. Like great cinema, epiphanies open up new worlds to us, but unlike movies, they aren’t wrapped up in tidy conclusions. In fact, just like the biblical Epiphany, they are gifts waiting to be unwrapped. They are the start of small interior revolutions and because they are incommunicable, we will never plumb the depths of these revolutions on film or video. Likewise, the inner experience of the viewer is often the key component that typically makes the book more exciting than the movie. Perhaps the revolution was never meant to be televised, but rather incarnated.

When Jesus charges the disciples, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead,” I wonder, is he trying to ensure that his imminent murder is not prevented or is there something about the Resurrection that makes all that transpired on the mountain suddenly communicable? In the second reading, Paul seems to agree with the second assertion. He suggests that God has designed a salvific narrative from before time began. He then indicates that no wonderful work of ours (even the greatest film!) will likely call anyone to holy life. He assures that the Grace of Christ Jesus is the lynchpin in our understanding of the mystery of our lives. Whether in the form of the Eucharist or as members of the Body of Christ that preceded time, the revolution that the Gospel of Jesus inspires is beckoning us to be transfigured from within. My prayer is that, as this revolution unfolds, we all emerge from the role of theatrical viewers and instead seek to be participants in the unfolding narrative. As Franciscans we know how important it is to take part in the incarnation, and “bear [our] share of hardship with the strength that comes from God.”

Rhett Engelking is the Franciscan Earth Corps Program Director.

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Published in: on March 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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