06 August 2017

Nor his heart to report

Methought I was—there is no man can tell what.
Methought I was,—and methought I had,—
But man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had.
The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report…

  - A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act IV, Scene i
That the Transfiguration of the Lord calls to mind this passage from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream may shock some sensibilities. After all, even when the scenes of the Bard’s fantastic stories escape into Elphame, the Comedies betray an all-too-worldly sensibility which the Transfiguration threatens to overthrow and explode with a whisper. How can the profane, magical transfiguration of a weaver into a mule by the trickster-spirit Puck, a folk-traditional holdover from Teutonic heathenry, and that weaver’s subsequent nocturnal dalliance with a færie queen, be at all juxtaposed with an apparition of such sublimity that even the closest Apostles of the Lord could not themselves bear the full sight of it?

And yet the Transfiguration of Our Lord does have a certain parallel with Bill Shakespeare’s comedic flight of fantasy. Even if the events that prompted them are the substance of fantasy and dreams, the sentiments here expressed by Bottom toward the end of the play – ‘for if I tell you, I am no true Athenian’ – seem to express the wordless and marvelling fear that the disciples of the Lord, Peter, James and John, are struck with when they hear the voice from Heaven that accompanies the transfigured Jesus, shining with the Uncreated Light of Tabor. Their senses were overwhelmed into confusion. It may well be imagined that their eyes did ‘hear’, that their ears did ‘see’ – and what they did see and hear, what they did taste and conceive of, was a vision of the Trinity. The voice of the Father. The perfected image of the Son. The pure light and uncreated radiant energies of the Holy Ghost.

But it was no dream. Peter, James and John were fully awake. They ascended Mount Tabor by day, which was still ‘overshadowed’ by the presence of God in all His three Persons. They beheld Christ with Moses and Elijah in full possession of their faculties, and they still were overwhelmed. Their eyes were made to ‘hear’ and their ears to ‘see’, because what overthrew their senses and threw them down upon their faces, was Reality Himself. The reality they had been living in – that had not been their waking life. They were thrust headlong into wakefulness by the presence of God.

Yet even in a way, Shakespeare’s comedy provides us with this insight – one possibly derived from the Greek Classics themselves – that reality is, or can be, permeable. His fanciful mishmashing of Norse and Classical Greek worlds, his blending of the fantastic and the outlandish with the ordinary and the everyday, the human with the supernatural, partakes of the essence of Færie that lends such power to the later works of Morris and Tolkien: highlighting the merely human by juxtaposing it with what challenges its powers of reason and engages its powers of poetic and mythic wonder. Love is the force in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that most often overpowers, captures, enthralls and compels the characters: from the basest of lusts and calculations for power, to the most kenotic of devotions – even when it is placed in the juice of a flower and applied to the eyes (again, all too well does Shakespeare understand that the organs of sense are the most vulnerable and the least to be trusted)!

But here, Peter, James and John are coming out of the woods, rather than (as Shakespeare’s young Athenian lovers do) fleeing into it. The disciples are waking up from the dream-world as they follow the Lord up the slopes of Mount Tabor. Scripture as well shows ‘reality’ to be permeable, but in a very different way – it’s Reality, summoning us upward to behold as much of Him as we can bear to perceive. Through their eyes Saint Matthew offers us a vision of a very different understanding of Love: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. This Love, this Uncreated Light, is not at war with Reality in the ultimate, theological sense – indeed, they are one and the same. But still, this Love overthrows and confounds our senses just as surely as the flower’s juice does those of the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but not, so far as we know, because the Spirit behind it is mischievous and laughing at our follies. Though it’s true, so many of us – yours truly very much included – are still deep ‘in the woods’ of our sins and nowhere even close to Tabor.

For that moment the disciples of the Lord who saw this apparition, this revelation of the Real, on Mount Tabor, are shaken out of their dreamlike state. For that moment, their ‘follies’ – their quarrels amongst themselves over who is greatest, their worries about Christ’s coming trial and death, their struggles to believe, their inability to heal as Christ healed – these are all put to the side and forgotten. For that moment, there is nothing standing between them, their sensate bodies and rational minds, and the present and personal Reality – the Triune God, in the flesh – that radiates Love.

Jesus tells the three disciples who are with Him not to speak of the event until He is raised from the dead. Yet there’s something in the story that suggests they could not speak of it at the time, even if they had the will to do so. Their questioning Christ about the presence of Elijah suggests that they themselves can’t quite shake out of their dream-state, that they still can’t quite wrap their minds around what has just happened. Yet they ultimately were able to tell of it, and not only that, to take up their own crosses and live that Reality as they were shown it. Holy, Glorious and All-Laudable Apostles Peter First-Enthroned, James the Great and John the Theologian, pray to Our Lord Christ for us sinners.
Преобразился еси на горе Христе Боже,
показавый учеником Твоим славу Твою,
якоже можаху,
да возсияет и нам грешным,
Свет Твой приносущный,
молитвами Богородицы,
Светодавче слава Тебе.

No comments:

Post a Comment