Doreen was nice enough. A faithful member of another St Mary’s, Walney Island where I served my curacy. She lived with her husband Bill (who never went to church) in one of the posher terraced houses, built for the managers of Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow.
From the outside theirs was a house like any other on the terrace. Inside beyond the well cleaned hallway and polished statuettes I found Bill in the back room. At first glance he looked rather crumpled, he wasn’t really very well, he had trouble breathing and so on.
If I’m honest I expected the conversation to be pleasant and friendly which it was yet there was more. The large bust of Richard Wagner I glimpsed on the way in should have told me that.
When I spent time with that crumpled little man I was surprised time and again. Here was a man who taught me always to look twice, to try and be attentive, to look beneath the surface.
He may not have looked much but this was a man who loved poetry and Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. He might have been stuck indoors for much of the time, but his days were filled with the sounds of famous theatrical performances on audio tape or with classical music. He loved music, Wagner yes, but more Mozart, Beethoven and so on. Movies too. We were never short of something to talk about.
So over the coming months and years I would find myself calling in from time to time. I would look forward to seeing him. (well yes and Doreen too, though after a bit she got the message and would leave us to it) It would always be interesting and he would often ask perceptive questions about faith.
I wanted to begin with Bill this morning because meeting him was for me a transfiguration moment. In that though I saw him at first, I didn’t really see him. I saw a crumpled and weak man, I didn’t see a man who would in some way would shape my life.
The transfiguration of Jesus, which we recalled in our Gospel this morning, is all about not seeing and seeing. Peter, John and James went up the mountain with this man who they had spent their lives with. They saw him every day. Yet though he spoke the things of God, their vision was incomplete.
On the mountain top they see him afresh. They see him transfigured ‘the appearance of his face changed’. They see things in a new way.
Over the last few weeks it has been really good for me to have managed a number of really good walks, usually climbing mountains. Paths in the Lake District though have helped me think about transfiguration too.
For much of the time you have to keep your head down and watch where you plant your feet, if you don’t, well you can imagine. So every so often you need to stop and take in the view. Taking a moment to really look, seeing things properly, paying attention and then going on.
Wherever we are I guess we’re all guilty of missing those moments of transfiguration that come our way. When we see but don’t really see.
On the mountain top the disciples saw Jesus differently. They saw him with Elijah and Moses (two other mountain top men). They got it wrong (don’t they always) wanting to build shelters but it didn’t matter, they had seen the glory of the Lord.
We may not have climbed a mountain or seen Jesus transfigured but we have seen the glory of the Lord in those whom we have met along the way. The people like Bill, who I saw, but at least at first didn’t really see. Through him came a moment of transfiguration when I was reminded to always try and live and see with eyes truly open.
What of us this morning not on a mountain top but surrounded by faces you know. Faces you see but perhaps don’t really see, and what about beyond these walls?
What of the faces we meet? Do we live with our heads bowed down, overly anxious about our next step (as I often am) or do we live with hope and with the expectation that our vision may be changed by those whom we meet?
Bill died whilst I was on holiday, so I was thankful his family waited for my return so that I might take his funeral. Afterwards they invited me to have something from his extensive collection of tapes and DVD’s because they thought I might like a little something to remember him by.
So thanks Bill for the Box Set of the Godfather Trilogy movies that stands amidst my collection but above all thanks Bill for helping me understand just a little of what the transfiguration is about.