Outside is gloomy and raining today. Although I love rain — drizzly rain, soft rain, even driving earth altering rain — I can do without the gloomy part. Still, when there is gloominess around me, it invites me into contemplative moments. Those reflective kind of moments when transfiguration happens. And so today, the rainy drizzle leads my reflection to two places — to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus and to the story of Yonah, who sings “Stranger to the Rain” in the theatrical production of “Children of Eden.”
This, in fact, is the Sunday of the Transfiguration of the Lord. In remembering the story that is told by all four Gospel writers and referred to by Apostles Peter and Paul, I always recall the response of three of Jesus’s disciples — Peter, James and John. On that high mountain with Jesus, they experienced a high moment when Jesus was transfigured. I always wonder what their soul emotions might have been when they witnessed Jesus glowing with a dazzling, holy light. Might they have felt fear, awe, exhilaration? Could they have felt that in that light, something holy rose up in them?
However they might have felt inside, they must have felt some sort of draw, something beckoning them to stay there on the holy mountain. They wanted to stay in the radiance of these moments with Jesus and with the Prophets Elijah and Elisha. They may have just wanted to be together in that beloved community.
From Chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel . . .
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Whatever the reason — being together in community, taking in the bright radiance, or being immersed in the miracle — the disciples wanted to stay on the mountain and to be in that holy moment together. Isn’t what all of us want? Don’t we all long for holy moments? Don’t we all want to be a part of beloved community?
Throughout this pandemic’s long season of isolation, many people are experiencing the loss of community, the loss of being together with the people they care about. I have heard stories of this kind of loss from countless people, and usually they are also mourning being away from their places of worship. They mourn for the loss of being together and for the loss of their holy places. Like the disciples, it seems that being together and being in holy places is what they need.
I have thought about those needs, the attraction of them, the longing for them. My conclusion is that these are places where people are accepted, unconditionally. We want to be with people who do not ostracize us, in worship places that never name us unworthy or turn us away. Being ostracized always hurts no matter the reason. But people are ostracized every day — for their race, their religion, their gender identity. People are ostracized every day for simply being who they are, because “who they are” does not fit in to someone’s world of acceptable people. People ostracizing other people has been a shameful reality through the ages.
I have been ostracized many times in my life, for many reasons. The idea of being ostracized brings to mind one of my favorite musicals, “Children of Eden.” Act 2 begins with the story of Noah and his sons preparing the ark before the great flood. It seems God is about to ostracize all the earth’s people except Noah, his family and their gathering of animals. But Noah’s story has another arc, the story of his youngest son, Japheth and his future bride, Yonah.
Because of the imminent flood, Japheth is on a deadline to find a partner to bring on the arc. Japheth doesn’t want his father to choose for him, because he is already in love with someone. He announces he will bring his future bride to dinner. Noah and the family eagerly prepare to meet Yonah, but Yonah is not the kind of woman they expected.
Japheth tries to bring his true love Yonah, the servant girl, to the table, but Noah stops him. Yonah bears the mark of Cain and this causes a furor. Yonah is not one of them. She is of another race. Japheth is furious that his family rejected her and storms off just as animals start appearing on their way to the ark.
After every person and animal is onboard the ark, Noah sees Yonah standing alone and apologizes that he can not take her with him. Left alone, the “black girl bearing the mark of Cain” feels the devastating pain of rejection. Filled with emotion and overcome with sadness, Yonah sings “Stranger To The Rain,” singing of her pain of being ostracized, how she is accustomed to being rejected, but she also sings of her resilience to bear it. “I’ve learned not to tremble when I hear the thunder roar. I don’t curse what I can’t change . . . I won’t say I’ve never felt the pain, but I am not a stranger to the rain.”
I find priceless wisdom in the words Yonah sings.
She describes herself as an “orphan in the storm.” And the truth is that, at times, I have described myself as an orphan. It is a feeling of being alone, being put out and rejected, being told you do not belong, being ostracized. I hate that feeling, but I love the feeling of being “one” with my community and “one” with God — Beloved Community.
Here is an audio of “Stranger to the Rain.” I wonder if you can imagine Yonah standing alone, Noah looking at her with guilt. She looks at Japheth who stands far away, sometimes turning away from her, for looking at her is too painful.