The day after my Corpus Christi post I was thinking about ‘stuff’. It’s not exactly a technical term, is it? But it serves an important function in the account of sacraments I was sketching there. God can do that with stuff–change it completely without making it appear as anything other than what it was before–because God is already sustaining everything that is. I realized this morning how much I owe my understanding of sacraments and sanctification to John McDade’s essay on the incarnation. He borrows Peter Geach’s phrase to describe the presence of God in the world: ‘God sustains the world as a singer sustains his song.’ Thanks also to McDade (and to his reading of Aquinas) I think about sacraments and sanctification together with the incarnation and transfiguration. God has a way with creatures that allows them to be creatures, and yet to be wholly alive only as God’s creatures.
If God is already so intimately present to us, already keeping us in being from moment to moment, it doesn’t make much sense to think of ourselves as somehow competing with God for ‘control’ of our lives. The breath of God enlivens us, makes us who we are. I am who I am because of the mysterious interaction of God’s life and the human being–body and soul–who appears and thinks and speaks in the world. God transforms me–just like the Eucharistic elements–without violence.
I thought about this all in a different way as I read the account of Transfiguration that JK Rowling gives in the first Harry Potter book. (I admit to being a decade and a half behind with this. I am a loyal citizen of Narnia, and somehow it felt like treason. Now, I have to attend to the world of Harry Potter because of my children.) Hermione remarks that she’s looking forward to Transfiguration, which she glosses as (something like) how to turn something into something else. No, I thought (I might even have said it out loud…) that’s not really what transfiguration is, at least not as I remember and celebrate it on the 6th of August. That’s not why it is my favourite of the Luminous mysteries. And it isn’t why I connect transfiguration with holiness and the sacraments. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, his disciples see him as Jesus. The point is not that he’s suddenly something other than what he was before; rather, his identity becomes clearer to them as a result of his being temporarily, blindingly bright. So, I think, it is with us as God transforms us into the image of Christ. Our identity in God becomes clearer, even as we remain recognisably ourselves.
I’m told that Rowling’s account of Transfiguration becomes more nuanced as the series goes on. Guess I’ll just have to keep reading.