The Transfiguration and Seeing the World through the Eyes of Wonder

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Peter, John, and James go with Jesus up a mountain to pray. As they pray, “Jesus’ face changed in appearance.” His clothes become “dazzling white” and he stands radiant in all “his glory.” What strikes me more than Jesus’ change, however, is the apostles’ own transfiguration. They look on Jesus—the same man who they regularly prayed and spent time with—with eyes of wonder.

Last week I had two experiences on airplanes that reminded me of how important it is to see our ordinary experiences with wonder. In the past few years I have become a terrible flyer. In addition to grumbling about delays and all the things you’re no longer allowed to bring on a plane, I have become a bit of a nervous passenger. The comedian Louis C.K. is making fun of me in his sketch on the miracle of flight when he says, “’I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes. Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly through the air like a bird, incredibly? Did you soar into the clouds, impossibly? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight and then land softly on giant tires…?…You’re sitting in a chair in the sky. You’re like a Greek myth right now.” (Watch him do a similar bit here.) I get so hung up on the things that might go wrong that I fail to see the miracle of flight.

As my first flight took off last week, I looked across the aisle and out the window. As we lifted off the ground, a small girl in the window seat held her teddy bear up to the window to give him a perfect view to see the large plane take off and “fly like a bird.” The child gave up her own view through the window throughout the entire take-off so that her friend the bear could watch the miracle.

As I found my seat on my return red eye a week later, I was surprised to see a ten-year-old boy in the window seat next to mine. I looked around for his parents, ready to trade spots. A couple minutes later, Phillip informed me that he was flying alone. It was his 27th flight overall and his 7th by himself. He knew all of the safety procedures, and to prove it, he started reciting them verbatim, one after the next. “To fasten your seatbelt, insert the metal fittings one into the other, and tighten by pulling on the loose end of the strap.” When I asked him what you should do if the passenger next to you needs help with their oxygen mask, he said without hesitation, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.” Phillip knew exactly which type of aircraft we were on and which other planes were around us in the airport. He rang the call button (actually, I rang it—he couldn’t reach) to ask the flight attendant if he could please go sit in the cockpit. To his disappointment, she refused. Phillip told me he might want to be a pilot someday. I assured him that he already had a head start.

Phillip and the girl with the teddy bear saw the experience of flying with eyes of wonder. This really quite amazing experience had become completely routine, and even frustrating and nerve-wracking for me. The children’s awe reminded me that approaching everyday experiences with wonder, especially those we find annoying or even scary (like commuting, waking up to your newborn baby in the middle of the night, or starting a new job), transfigures those situations.

Christ’s dazzling change made it easy for the Apostles to look upon him with eyes transfigured by wonder. And it is easy for children to approach the world of ordinary things with amazement. The real challenge is for the rest of us to choose to see a transfigured world in the moments when the extraordinary is hidden in the frustration or mundaneness of the ordinary.