In February 2013, I received news that my mother had finally passed away. She had been on and off her feeding tube for months; her body simply wouldn’t give up its life. Looking back, I think she held on because her spirit was tormented. Mom was a lifelong alcoholic and, as a result of her disease, incurred early-onset dementia, moving from assisted living to memory care before she died.
During our visits she constantly expressed that she was going to hell because of her past sins. Never mind prayers and absolution from chaplains—she clung to earthly life, repeating, “I don’t want to go to hell.”
I often think of my mom when the transfiguration story comes up during the liturgical year, as it does this February. Gospel for her was an unbelievable reality, much like the idea of a transfigured, dazzling Jesus. Unlike in Jesus’ narrative, there was little peace in Mom’s story and no happy ending. She didn’t believe she could be saved.
This month’s Gospel texts are bookended by two familiar passages—the Beatitudes and the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. On first reading, such texts sound like impossibilities. For those who suffer the harsh realities of this world—poverty, injustice, addiction, loneliness, despair—blessing and transfiguration may seem out of reach.
Through my mother’s life and the lives of others, I’ve learned that sometimes faith in things such as blessing and transfiguration hang on a thread—and a thin one at that. Yet as we prepare ourselves to enter the season of Lent, let us remember that this thin thread of faith is all God needs to heal us, renew us, reconcile us to others, and bring a sense of peace and justice into hopeless situations.
Because of that thread, I believe that my mom experienced peace in and beyond her death, something she rarely experienced here on earth. Her unbelief could not separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Today, despite the disturbing rise in hatred and division around us, I believe that the downtrodden and those forgotten or cast off by society are still blessed. Regardless of my cynicism and doubt, I cling to the hope and mystery of God’s blessing and transfiguration, no matter how unrealistic or impossible they seem.
For those who suffer, wondering if God is listening; for those who, like me, wonder if they’re doing all they can; and for all of us who look at the world and long for God’s blessing and transfiguration daily, let that thin thread of faith be enough