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Graces: To Ask or Not to Ask…

Whilst the entire Transfiguration icon is fascinating, what caught my attention are the three rays of light joining the Transfigured Christ at the top of the mountain to the three disciples below: Peter, James and John. It is obvious that the rays emanating from Christ are overwhelming the disciples, hence their tumbled states.

The Transfiguration, 1535 (icon), Theophanes
The Transfiguration, 1535 (icon), Theophanes

The Transfiguration episode is full of Exodus imagery as well as a foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion on Calvary. The top of the mountain, whether literally or figuratively, is a place where some people meet God; and to meet God would no doubt be overwhelming, causing us to fall, voluntarily or otherwise.

A seemingly unrelated image came to my mind when looking at this icon. It is of the image of the Marian apparition at Rue de Bac to St Catherine Labouré in 1830 where Mary had many rays of light dispersing from the rings on her fingers to a globe, representing the graces to the world and certain individuals. Where there is no light from her rings, it is because those individuals have failed to ask for it.

Some interesting aspects of grace are apparent from these two seemingly unconnected images. Whilst many would think of grace as “undeserved favor”, something that God bestows upon us without us requesting it, perhaps it is something we should ask for.

It is easy to say that we should humbly prepare to receive grace (whether we asked for it or not), but is it really that easy? Perhaps God’s grace is most apparent when we are stuck in difficulties. We know that suffering is part of the Christian walk—after all, Christ and Mary suffered greatly and the only way to the top of the mountain is to climb it.

Or, given our fallen nature, perhaps the grace that flows to us may seem like suffering, not necessarily out of anger but out of love—to quote from the novel Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, perhaps “the Divine Nature wounds and perhaps destroys us merely by being what it is”. It is plausible that God’s grace can cause us to tumble, possibly painfully, in order to teach us about our flaws as well as His Power and Glory.

If graces and suffering can go together, then it makes one wonder whether one even dares ask for grace even though we have been instructed to do so…


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