If a welder forgets to pull down the lens of his helmet before welding joints on the steel of a bridge or skyscraper or what have you, he can develop ‘arc eye,’ a condition caused by glimpsing intense sparks of light as he works. It’s a really crappy thing to get; pain like sand has been rubbed in the cornea. The welder lies in bed that night closing and opening his eyes. Everything is pink, he closes them again. There are remedies that have been passed on through the years: sliced potatoes on the eyes, pouring milk on them, eye drops. In the end they have to wait it out.
In the Bible God never actually, really, appears right in front of anyone. I suppose the closest anyone gets to seeing him is when Moses is allowed a glance at his back. Other than that he’s in a cloud, or smoke, fire, wind, stuff like that.
It’s considerate of him to turn his back on us—if we actually saw his face there’d probably be some kind of pop and sizzle and we’d be finished. He’s too big, too staggeringly magnificent. Watch a Nova show on relativity and the cosmos and think about God and it will blow your mind. One night, after watching a Nova milky way-universe-black hole-scientists with enormous telescopes and computers show, I couldn’t sleep. I was out of my wits scared. We’re insects, beasties, skinny dweebs compared to him. It’s a crazy thing that he loves us.
A couple days ago I was reading about one of those times in scripture when he gets alarmingly close to showing up and it made me think about an egg. Of all things. Annie Proulx, (she’s a writer I used to read a lot because she has a wonderful eye, very descriptive. In one of her books she describes a person’s remains (I know) that were in a suitcase (I know again) that had been floating in the ocean and then washed up on the shore and she describes it as “gelatinous.”) She also describes the headlights of a car in the middle of the night as looking like “eggs.”
To be honest I thought headlights in the middle of the night looking like eggs was a little much, but I got her point, the key factor being that the eggs had to be cracked into a pan. Yellow yolk in the middle and then the hallo of white. So yes, I’ll give her that; there’s the headlight itself that you can barely look at it’s so bright, and then the white luminesce around it that visually thins out like the irregular edges of the white of an egg.
But God showing up. I was reading about The Transfiguration in Matthew 17 when Jesus becomes so bright it’s hard to even look at him. He takes Peter, James, John and his brother up a high mountain—and that alone has some kind of story behind it that we’ll never know but could have fun imagining; did it take days to get up there so they had to camp on the way? Only an hour or so to the top but climbing over rocks so they were still breathing heavy when Jesus changes before them? Hungry? Tired? Scared? Bored? Regardless:
“ . . . his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Moses and Elijah were there too, but let’s ignore them. They were there. Okay. So what. I have no idea.
If Jesus’ face shone like the sun then he was impossible to look at. Light is wonderfully crazy that way.
My egg image is entirely inefficient and falls apart when compared to The Transfiguration, but there was Proulx’s image of headlights (somewhat similar) and then her liking them to eggs (entirely deficient). My mind betrays me. Pardon. Deep-six the thought.
At this point Peter begins a monologue that rivals your aunt or uncle at Christmas. He starts talking nonsense, about tiny houses and whatnot, until he is interrupted. By God.
“He was still speaking when behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’”
And this is when everyone freaks out. They are terrified by the Word of God more than the light of Jesus. They fall on their faces like their knees had turned to water. Jesus transfigured was enough to bring Peter to a boil of soliloquy nonsense, but it didn’t scare him into a mess on the ground. They were hearing the word of God. He, the God of exploding stars and nebula, was communicating to them straightaway and what could they do but try to hide themselves? And then:
“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
Eggs aside, I can picture Jesus, my Christ, resting his hand on my shoulder so that I am reminded of his love and able to once again lift my eyes to see my Lord and my God.
Nova, with the power of today’s telescopes hints at how vast our God is, how powerfully magnificent beyond our understanding, to the point that my thoughts of him can keep me up at night. But Jesus is God, Jesus who touches me on my shoulder and shows me that God is not so far away after all, and that someday my legs won’t turn to water when I see him. My ears will hear his voice and I will be changed.