Sunday, December 23, 2007


Review: Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World, by John Dear (Doubleday 2007)

Jesuit priest, retreat leader, writer and peace activist John Dear is running with the baton handed on by the Berrigan Brothers. (He spent at least one session in jail with one of them). Which means that he's prepared to do off-the-wall protests to get the attention of the Powers, engaging in nonviolent protests against war, the arms race, and human rights violations. Like Jesus, he says, we are to be non-violent, but this does not mean we are passive.

John Dear has served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization, and was a Red Cross coordinator of chaplains at the Family Assistance Center in New York City after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He has traveled to the world’s war zones on missions of peace and has been imprisoned repeatedly for civil disobedience in anti-war protests.

In this, the latest of his 15 or 16 books, he offers this basic message: we are to follow Jesus in terms of cultivating peace within, and peace in our world. Actually the journey has three parts - an inner journey, a public journey, and a journey for all humanity. The meditation is broken into five parts - walking in the footsteps of Jesus, going up the mountain with Jesus, recognizing the transfigured Christ in our midst, going down the mountain to the cross, and fulfilling our mission of transfiguration nonviolence in a culture of violence and war. The key? Loving ourselves as we are, diffusing the hatred we might feel towards others, and consciously embracing a choice to live in peace.

In this book John Dear explores of the many meanings in the Gospel story of Jesus' transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1-8). As we travel with Jesus, we too combine a mystical journey within with a life of healing the wounds of the world:

'To be listeners, we have to prepare ourselves to receive the Word, to let it settle in and take root in our hearts. As we become people of contemplative listening, we eventually notice every word that Jesus says, and we try to build our lives on his message, word by word, until we live and breathe his teachings.'

Contemplation is not the prayer of the Pharisees - words, words, words. It is resting in the presence of God and listening to what God is telling us. Action without contemplation is futile.

Not everyone will be convinced by John Dear's approach (unless they already agree with him :-). For example, this, from the Publisher's Weekly: 'Dear also includes helpful suggestions on spiritual practices that lead to embracing nonviolence, as well as questions for individual contemplation or group discussion. Like many who are passionate about their subject, Dear's sense that he absolutely knows God's will is daunting at times. He also stretches some of the biblical texts, arguing, for instance, that Moses and Elijah appear at the Transfiguration specifically to affirm Jesus' call to nonviolence. Dear is much to be admired for his persistence in the call for peace and nonviolence, a mission for which he has been willing to go to prison, and those who already share the author's views will find this book inspiring. Those who do not will probably go away unconvinced that the account of the Transfiguration makes his case.'

Whatever else he is, John Dear is authentic: he lives what he writes. He reminds you of St. Francis, who also sided with the poor, the outcasts, the 'little people'. John Dear writes: "To follow Jesus on the path of transfiguring nonviolence, we have to leave our lofty heights, comfortable safety, and private spiritualities and go with him down the mountain into the world of war, where we must confront the structures of violence head-on. The real discipleship journey begins now, after the Transfiguration, as we follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem."

John Dear's Jesus 'was incapable of remaining silent in the face of social injustice, infidelity, violence and idolatry, and so he caused trouble wherever he went.'

"Here in this book is a clarion call for us to be engaged in the project for world peace and we ignore it at our peril." —Desmond Tutu, from the Foreword.

At the back of the book are some useful questions for reflection. Highly recommended.

Another modern prophet you might want to check out: Shane Claiborne

Review copy supplied by Ridley Melbourne Bookshop.

Rowland Croucher


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