Train from Leeds to Edinburgh. Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow to Oban. Ferry from Oban to Craignuire. Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. Ferry from Fionnphort to Iona.

It would have taken less time to get from Leeds to Paris than from Leeds to Iona. But when I boarded the ferry for the short crossing to the island. Tears ran down my face. And I had a strange sense of homecoming.

Whilst I run the risk of being an Iona bore – I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned my pilgrimage there. It is relevant for today because Iona has become for me a place of transfiguration because I don’t think I really got what it was about until then.

For it seems to me that this moment described in our Gospel this morning in which Jesus is revealed with startling clarity is not just a singular event but part of an ongoing revelation given to invite and encourage us to see things differently as we go about our daily lives.

And that’s why I began with Iona because there I learned about this. For there the normal pace of life is suspended; you stop rushing about and take the time. To truly see the person before you. To savour the bird song. To appreciate the light. To see more deeply. To listen.

This change of seeing was what happened to the disciples – they saw Jesus differently, and is captured so well by the Scottish Poet Edwin Muir in his poem ‘The Transfiguration’ where he writes

‘Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen’
He goes on
‘Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place.’
On Iona my I was opened up to see things differently, though I don’t think I recognised it at first – I was a bit bewildered by the experience (rather like the disciples) but only when I came home and stumbled across that poem.

I found and read it amidst the day-to-day stuff of living, of shopping and emails, of trying not to be too grumpy and cross and realised that something important happened on that island.

But Iona, with its white beaches and ancient abbey seems such a long way away in this time of lockdown. And what might wistful dreaming about another place have to say to us today?

Well, its simply because my time there taught me that though things might seem otherwise there is a deeper and richer reality beneath the surface of our lives. And since then, I have been praying daily to see it.

I think that’s the journey that James, Peter and John were on too, once they’d come down from the mountain. Their way of seeing the world could never be the same again.

But what about when we cannot get to Iona, or when mountain tops are out of bounds. And here I turn to a book I read recently entitled ‘Rooted in detachment – Living the transfiguration’ written by the then Bishop of Portsmouth Kenneth Stevenson.

Bishop Stevenson died in 2011 and wrote this book in 2007 having been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and undergoing various treatments.

And he was not writing of the transfiguration through the lens of Scottish Island’s or mountain tops but during the daily challenges he faced.

I met him once, he came to our theological college – it was a memorable seminar for he was a good mix of mischief and humour, intelligence, and insight. The book reflects these traits of character.

Without going into detail Stevenson reminds us that we get glimpses of the transfiguration just as much in the midst of our daily lives, as we do when we go to special places.

‘Transfiguration enables me (he says) to see everything in my life in a new and different way altogether.’
‘to see everything in my life in a new and different way’

I came back from Iona challenged to see my daily life differently. Peter, James and John must have had to the same, and Bishop Stevenson through his disfiguration came to see transfiguration more fully.

And it seems to me that the reason each year that we read the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent is because the season before us is one in which we seek to learn to see things differently.

And in many ways the days of Lent, Holy Week, Easter and to the Ascension mirrors the Gospel we have heard today.

For we have the ascent up the mountain (hard work, tiring, long) – Lent.
We have the experience at the mountain top (confusion, seeing things differently) – Holy Week and Easter Then we have the journey down from the mountain (trying to make sense of that has happened) – the days from Easter to Ascension.

The first part of that journey is before us, and it begins on Wednesday with ash, a reminder of our mortality and the truth of our existence. And we go on from there.

And even though it feels like we have been living through kind of perpetual Lent over the last year the season is upon us again with an invitation from this Gospel.

To remember fashioned through our experiences whether they be on islands or in hospital wards, at home or at our work that though things might seem otherwise – though we might seem unable to see through the cloud that can sometimes overshadow us there is a deeper and richer reality too.

A reality that shines through the clouds from time to time as I think we all know illuminates the dull and dreary. That softly speaks of our belovedness and challenges us to live rooted in a way of seeing that recognises God present with us.

Revealed perhaps in the hands of a carer, in the voice of our beloved, in the song of a bird, in the eyes of a stranger. These moments that invite to pause in wonder are glimpses of the transfiguration.

Paradoxically then, Iona taught me that we don’t have to travel far to experience transfiguration and that is good news as we get ready for Lent.

‘Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work’