(Photo of solar glory courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, February 19, 2012)
Readings for Sunday, February 19, 2012:
Psalms 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalms 114, 115 (Evening)
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
--2 Corinthians 3:7-18 (NRSV)
Of particular note in our Epistle today is the fact the word "glory" appears fourteen times in our passage from 2 Corinthians, and the remainder of the readings have "glory" sprinkled around a few more times for good measure. Wow. That's a lot of glory.
Have you ever been lucky enough to see a solar glory? A solar glory is a halo-like phenomenon caused by the observer being directly between the sun and a cloud of refracting water droplets. Light tunnels through air and is emitted backward, causing a "reverse rainbow" effect against the clouds--the red is on the outer ring of the glory, and the violet is in the center. Often, this is accompanied by a giant sized shadow of the observer's body against the clouds, known as a Brocken spectre (Brocken is the name of the tallest mountain of the Harz Mountains in Germany.) When the Brocken spectre is part of the phenomenon, it appears that a reverse rainbow halo is emanating from the observer's head (the Buddhists call this "Buddha's light.")
It strikes me that in order to see a solar glory, we have to have the light on our backs and our head aimed at the clouds--really, not so much different than what Paul describes how the people of Israel could not look directly at Moses' face after he had seen the Glory of the Lord. Looking directly at the Glory of the Lord appears to be a big no-no in more than one place in the Old Testament. Moses veiled his face, not just so the people could look at him until the glory faded, but one could postulate it was also for the people to be obscured from the fact it was fading. I imagine Moses want to get all he could on that one with the people, while the getting was good.
I remember as a child, the first time I remember another natural solar phenomenon, a solar eclipse, how my grandpa cautioned me ad nauseum, ad infinitum that I could not look directly at it. He showed me how to make a little pinhole in a piece of white cardboard and project the eclipse on another piece of white cardboard. Always the ingenious sort, I took this one step further by making a box with a pinhole and a white piece of poster board taped on the other side so I could put the box over my head and have the eclipse all to myself and not have to share. But after a while, I realized it was pretty boring to look at it by myself (not to mention my entire family was teasing me about having a box over my head,) and cannibalized my contraption for parts to share the fun with others. After all, other people could see it with their own pinhole contraptions. I wasn't really controlling it for myself, it turned out. But the glory of that moment faded, too, with the fading of the eclipse.
The glories of the Lord are as mysterious as solar glories and solar eclipses. I don't think any of us wakes up and says, "Today, I plan on seeing a solar glory." They just happen and if we are awake enough, we might get to see one. We do get a little luxury in planning for eclipses, but the fact remains that we don't see either phenomenon by direct intent of looking at the source of light. In both instances, we have to turn our backs to the light and trust it will do what it will do. Our role in this is to face forward and look ahead of our own noses, and hope.
When we are faced with the presence of the Glory of the Lord, do we try to stare at it and burn out our spiritual retinas? Do we try to keep it all to ourselves by putting a box over our head? Or do we trust there's enough there to share with the whole world? When we sense the glory fading, do we try to squeeze down on it in a last-ditch attempt to control its duration, only to have it smoosh out between our fingers? Or do we savor this time together in the presence of God and live in hope for the next one?