The Metamorphic Moment: A 21st Century Jungian Interpretation of the Transfiguration of Christ

The Metamorphic Moment: A Psychology of Fire and Love for the Postmodern Day of Judgment by Dr. Charles ZeidersLike the 1st century, the 21st century is poised for sudden change at the level of individual and collective psychology. Exploring the experience of Jesus, Peter and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, this article provides a depth psychological perspective on assenting to the radical psychological requirements of sudden development, and bowing to God’s radical psychological commands in the face of such development. Among these commands are Jesus’ summary of the law and the prophets; his commandments to love God and neighbor in reciprocal love. By assenting to Transfiguration and by assenting to Jesus’ command to love both God and man, psychological development expands to such an extent that emotions like fear, at personal and collective evolutionary shifts, are ameliorated. Following analysis of the 3 developmental epochs of the Western mind, Zeiders argues that personal alignment with God’s transformative power is critical to addressing the pathology in – and the developmental crisis of – the individual and collective postmodern Western soul. Drawn from St. John’s 1st universal letter, the words, “The Day of Judgment,” refer to the current crisis in the soul of Western civilization. The “Metamorphic Moment” refers to the entrainment of the individual healthcare provider and mystic/activist for individual transformation in service to God, man, and God’s evolutionary plans for the Western soul

1. What post-modern cultural/societal conditions and stressors seem to most visibly affect those patients and colleagues with whom you work?

2. What applications of the “first things” of Jesus are most evident to you in your clinical practice and/or healing ministry?

O God, who on the mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thine only-begotten Son wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering; Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may be permitted to behold the King in his beauty, who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen (The book of common prayer, 1945, p. 247).

It is pre-modern to seek beyond rational knowledge for God; it is modern to desire to hold knowledge in the structures of human rationality (with or without God); it is postmodern to see the impossibility of such knowledge (Joseph Bottum, 2010, p. 44).

I believe this moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism (Gabe Lyons, 2010, p. 11).
And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? (William Butler Yeats, 1920/1962, p. 91).

Transfiguration and Our Metamorphic Moment

For the Christian healthcare provider to understand the nature of the times, it is helpful to appreciate that the historical moment is one of Transfiguration or Metamorphosis. To understand the nature of the task before us, we must understand first the activity of God. We must appreciate the power of God’s definite and decisive seismic action and arrange ourselves to accommodate the demands of the fluidity and madness of the twenty first century. Even as we ourselves – as professionals and persons – are changing, so we are being called to treat patients, systems, and even globalization itself with the unprecedented metamorphic power God is making available to us for a new kind of sanity to give to the world in crisis.

We should not be surprised because Christ himself demonstrated that God will use extraordinary and sudden intervention to hasten his will on earth. God is capable of quantum quickness. And this is demonstrated in Scripture. In the midst of ministry and preaching and miracles, for example, Jesus selected Peter, James, and John for a sudden expedition up Mount Tabor. On that sacred Mountain, in the presence of his men:

He was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as dazzling as light (Matthew 17:2, NJB).

There he appeared before them in a luminous form with Moses and Elijah at his side. Peter reacted by proposing to build three tabernacles. A heavenly voice then declared Jesus to be the “beloved Son” and enjoined the disciples to heed him … the episode places Jesus on the same level as the Law and the Prophets (McBrien, 1995, p. 1263 -1264).

The Experience of Peter
In the face of the overwhelming luminosity of the experience Peter the Rock exclaimed, “It is wonderful for us to be here (Matthew 17:4, NJB)!” But he collapsed with James and John in overwhelming fear. Recalling the experience as an old man, Peter wrote:

When we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not slavishly repeating cleverly invented myths; no, we had seen his majesty with our own eyes. He was honored and glorified by God the Father, when a voice came to him from the transcendent Glory, “This is my Son, The Beloved; he enjoys my favor.” We ourselves heard this voice from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:17-18, NJB)

As healthcare providers, we must realize that Peter the Rock makes plain that he speaks from narrative memory. The experience was real, not a dream or a parable. His memoir is explicit: Peter speaks about a real experience. He saw the Metamorphic Light. This was no vision or allegory. He saw his Master glorified by a force that spoke out of heaven to the very earth where the Peter was standing. And he heard in extreme spiritual wonder and profound psychological fear, that this person Jesus Christ is the Son of God and enjoys God’s favor.

The Experience of Jesus
Now as Christian healthcare providers it is also important for us to understand Jesus’ post-Metamorphosis behavior. After what was undoubtedly an emotionally powerful personal experience, an experience that it is reasonable to conclude could have left him shaken, ecstatic, or needing time to reflect, Jesus says to his cowering emotionally overwhelmed friends, “Stand up, do not be afraid (Matthew 17:7, NJB).” Despite his Transfiguration and divine endorsement, Jesus Christ reassures his friends. “Stop cowering,” he tells them, “stand up.” He tells them that they are safe. They do no have to worry. Fresh from his own experience of luminosity and change, fresh from the overwhelming experience of receiving transformative love from his father, Jesus is loving his friends surely as much as he loves himself. He wants them to be okay.
Jesus Christ was Transfigured – as will we be – in the glory of Almighty God. He was fully human and fully God. The experience was, I assume, both wonderful and frightening. The experience put Jesus on equal footing with the Law Giver Moses and the Prophet Elijah. And the experience shows us the way forward in our current vocation as healthcare providers – as Christian professionals who are called to effectively address the psychological, physical and spiritual demands of our moment of global crisis.

Metamorphic Psychology

I understand Spiritual Transfiguration as a developmental encounter.  Understanding what happened on that mountain and how it impacted Jesus, Peter the Rock and John the Evangelist is a key to understanding our present situation, our call in the 21st century, and negotiating our own wonderful, and fearful Metamorphic Moment.

The 1st century, like our 21st century, was an age of discontinuous development. The lives of individuals and the nature of history itself suddenly changed. History was in crisis and careening. Anything could have happened. But it did not. Jesus was born into that age to show us how to live, to provide the means of salvation, and to provide us with unprecedented access to God and assistance from that God to meet our individual and collective needs.

On Mount Tabor Jesus was transfigured in the Divine Energy of the luminous light of love that passed between him and his father. Because he was fully God, we know that this revealed his divinity. But because he was fully man Jesus’ Metamorphosis demonstrated the capacity for individuals and even mankind to be changed in a moment by Almighty God. Of course, divinely driven change is wonderful, and St. Peter said so. But it is also immensely frightening. To develop discontinuously, to burn into more than one has ever been: this is to be terrified. That is why Christ told his men, “Do not be afraid.” He perfectly understood that great developmental leaps, even leaps ordained by his father God, disconcert and terrify the human mind. So again, he said, “Do not be afraid.” He possessed cogent awareness that Peter, James, and John trembled at their own transfigurations. He calmed their dread of the refining spiritual fire that would burn them into new selves and make unprecedented demands upon their regenerated persons. Of course they were cowering atop Mount Tabor and thinking more of safety than the future. They were unconscious that the transcendent Glory would perfectly equip them to launch history into a new epoch and to define the very essence of Western civilization for two thousand years. That was too much, too overwhelming. First they needed reassurance. “Stand up, do not be afraid (Matthew, 17:7, NJB),” Jesus said.

Other elements of God’s Metamorphic psychology are important. And these have implications for understanding Christ’s nature as well as human nature – specifically the psychology of transformation in God.

The Metamorphic moment can be mishandled. We are quite capable of getting it wrong. So in order to skirt mistakes that otherwise stem from disequilibrium of intellect, emotions, and behavior that flare from metamorphic crisis, we must do something specific. We must abide by what the transcendent Glory spoke out upon the holy mountain. We must listen to the Son, The Beloved, the one who teaches us how to negotiate his and our Metamorphosis. We must listen to Jesus.

What Does Jesus Say?

What precisely are those things that Jesus taught his disciples to which we might listen in this metamorphic moment? What particular teachings of Jesus provide us with essential understanding and point our way forward, so that we also might shape the coming age, rather than cower before it, as though we fear the Day of Judgment?

To answer this question we must again look atop Mount Tabor and see what Jesus’ apostles saw: Moses representing the Law; Elijah representing the prophets. And Jesus, authorized by the transcendent Glory, condenses all that Moses and Elijah represent. On Tabor, he emblemizes the law and the prophets, which he later summarizes proclaiming:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou halt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (The book of common prayer, 1945, p. 69)

And this encapsulation of the law and the prophets provides an absolutely reliable prescription for grounding ourselves in the Metamorphic moment and making the most of it.

To address our rapidly changing experience of living at the disintegration of one age and the birth of another, we must listen to Jesus and organize ourselves around his first things. One might say that this is our standing order of behavior modification. It is – according to Our Lord – medically necessary. Then our personal serenity and powers will be assured. We will perform our professional duties and be of use to our tormented human family without falling prey to the pathologies of the moment. We must listen to him. But how is hearing translated into doing, and how is doing beneficial to us and our patients?

Becoming a Doer

The answer comes from the Beloved Disciple, John the Evangelist, who was also on the Holy Mountain. He heard the voice of the transcendent Glory endorse the God-man and commend him to men. With Peter he beheld the Divine Energy, wondered at it, and feared its metamorphic power. But from that Metamorphic moment he arranged himself intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally in a psychologically centered posture. In this posture, he loved God first, experienced himself as loved, and enjoyed Love’s liberating kindness. He commended Love to his students for their enjoyment, that mental liberation in love might be theirs. And he continues to offer us a visionary psychology for the fearsome changes of our own time – our own Day of Judgment. In confessional poetry, the Beloved Disciple writes:

We have recognized for ourselves,
and put our faith in, the love God has for us.
God is love,
and whoever remains in love remains in God
and God in him.
Love comes to its perfection in us
when we can face the Day of Judgment fearlessly,
because even in this world
we become as he is.
In Love there is no room for fear,
but perfect love drives out fear,
Because fear implies punishment
and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.
Let us love, then,
because he first loved us
(1 John 4:16-20, NJB).

So there we have it. John changed; he changed from a youth afraid of God’s brilliance, afraid of punishment, and afraid of spiritual development. John stepped into evolutionary fire and fearlessly found readiness both for his age and the Day of Judgment. In the Transfiguring energy of God’s burning love, John morphed from a little developmental plateau to a large one. The Transfiguration revealed to him more than the Lord’s full divinity, and more than the Lord as symbolic of human evolution. Something else occurred. Because he listened and assented to the commands of a living God, John changed personally and profoundly. And in obedience to the sovereignty of the transcendent Glory, he assumed the psychological posture for the Metamorphic moment: to love God and others as he loved himself. And John did this – and experienced his own metamorphosis – one that equipped him to play his role in birthing the new age.

The Task Before Us

As Christian healthcare providers we stand at an inflection point that represents the conclusion of two thousand years of collective psychological development in the Western mind. To the extent that Judgment Day is the death of one stage of human evolution and the birth of another we are in a developmental crisis. And, as learned healthcare providers, we are all more than a little aware that death and birth are very bloody events and that life and death require preparations. So let us prepare.

Developmental Stages of Western Civilization
From my perspective, the collective soul of the West developed through threes stages, the pre-modern, the modern and, the post-modern.

Pre-Modern Development
To inaugurate our pre-modern development God equipped our collective souls with the Holy Sprit and fascinating upsets of natural laws called miracles. God also provided enjoyment – despite our manifold sins and wickedness – of an unprecedented amount of faith that was supported at every level of culture by church, government, and business. Our pre-modern Western souls enjoyed the culture of Christendom. For all its faults, the Western soul enjoyed a fullness of faith and the hope of salvation.

Modern Development
From the dawn of the Renaissance through the European Enlightenment until just very recently, modernism represented another growing condition of the Western soul. As in the current moment, faith persisted amid modernism, but was interrupted by the skepticism and decadence that accompanies scientific breakthroughs and the material benefits they provide. The Western soul experienced shocking breakthroughs of understanding and ability to manipulate the world through science and technology. The bright side was the soul’s enjoyment of an unprecedented earthly lifespan and material enjoyments. The dark side was the loss of faith to scientific skepticism and – at the conclusion of the world wars – a precipitous loss of faith in both God and man. And most importantly of all, our collective soul maintained the capacity for scientific and technical achievement but began to despair that they would do any good.

Post-Modern Development
At the current historical moment, we inhabit the post-modern part of our development. The post-modern soul opposes both faith and reason, and purports that science provides no promise of fullness or meaning any more than the sacraments of yore which it views as obviously dead. Of course, this psychological condition is a condition that only academics might bother to make conscious and articulate. For the developmental decline of the Western soul is complicated and dismal. But for Christian healthcare providers the post-modern condition is a pathology of the collective soul that begs diagnostic study in order to appropriately treat persons in our mission to fulfill our responsibilities to the transcendent Glory of the Metamorphic moment.

The post-modern soul has developed beyond faith and beyond reason. The post-modern soul is empty. Because it has lost its heart, it has lost its mind. And the post-modern madness – with all its horrific nihilism – infects with its compensatory defenses every level of culture: church, government, and business.

Compensatory Defenses
What are the compensatory defenses of the post-modern soul? The defenses of all souls afflicted from cosmic vacuity include: Idolatry and Addiction, Narcissism and Consumption. Psychological defenses protect us not only from outer conditions but also from inner ones. Appalled by loss of faith in God and traumatized by the failure of science and technology to secure temporal or eternal security, the Western soul has gone mad from emptiness. The fullness is gone. Sartorius (2009) observes that:
…we are tending at present in our Western culture towards a collective symbolism of Nothingness, in the sense that there is nothing behind the realties as they appear phenomenologically, and this “nothingness” tends to dissolve the fantasy that there should be a deeper meaning to life than just givenness. As it compensates thousands of years of meaningfulness, Nothingness as a symbol of our modern time tends to be nihilistic, in the sense that it tends to devalue and destroy the reality of life, of psychic life in particular (p. 172).

The signs and symptoms are in our culture. Just as Saint Paul observed 1st century Athenians defending against the void through worship of an idol to an unknown god, Christian healthcare providers can observe that the Western soul compensates against the Nothingness through idolatry and addiction.
Our Churches idolize themselves and self serve via unconvincing claims as salvation brokers, criminally covering scandals and complaining for greater tithes. Governments are full of “men of the people” who possess neither statesmanship nor integrity, men who sell public policy to corporatists who buy officials away from the people who elect them. And many large corporate businesses are run by great narcissists; persons who eclipse their own vacuity by the amassing of underserved fortunes of bankrupt currency while indoctrinating the people with pantheons of false gods to purchase over and over again until the last tank of petroleum has fueled the last shipping car … and then … what? Something or Nothing? Life or Death? Soon the collective defenses will collapse and crisis will erupt. Individuals and institutions will decompensate in a great nihilistic mess. Or, so it might seem. Revealing what he calls the fault of the West, The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew (2008), writes:

It is an easy, perhaps escapist option to criticize the West for the failures and ills of our world. Western Civilization is certainly responsible for philosophical worldviews and practical developments that have negatively affected our minds and behavior. It has unreservedly promoted a barren sense of intellectualism, which has ruptured any balanced sense of spirituality. It has also introduced an unrestrained sense of individualism, which has shattered any healthy senses of community. Moreover it has persistently encouraged the exploitation and abuse of nature through greedy market consumerism, which has destroyed the planet’s ecosystems and depleted its resources. And it has uncritically espoused the extremes of economic globalization (at the expense of human beings) and exclusive nationalism (at the cost of human lives) (p. 115).

Treatment for the Post-Modern Soul

As Christian healthcare providers, we realize that, if the post-modern soul of the West is our patient, our work is cut out for us. We are called to address the problems of the age in our various contexts of healthcare. As clinicians, we will do well to attend to the first medicine, which is always spiritual, always Love conceived of God within our mortal bodies. To love God and others is the first thing and this is the kingdom of God. Jesus, the Prince of this Kingdom and teacher of its first things:

… is going to engage Western culture in a new way, start[ing] with us. And it will happen when we commit to demonstrating his restorative power everywhere we show up and to everyone we encounter: with our friends and family, in the neighborhood where we live, and in the places where our vocations take shape. When Christians put their priority on the first thing, the second things begin to take care of themselves. Jesus himself couldn’t have been any clearer: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [second things] will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33) (Lyons, 2010, p. 195).

Perhaps by assenting to the transcendent Glory’s command to adhere to the transformative great commandments of Love – the first things – we healthcare providers will become dispensers of the very medicine that will cure us. Rohr (2008) believes so.

To allow yourself to be God’s beloved is to be God’s beloved. To allow yourself to be chosen is to become chosen. To allow yourself to be blessed is to be blessed. It is hard to accept being accepted, especially from God. It takes a certain kind of humility to surrender to it, and even more to persist in believing it …. God’s love is constant and irrevocable; our part is to be open to it and let it transform us. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more than God already does; and there is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us less. We are stuck with it! The only difference is between those who allow that and those who don’t. But they are both equally and objectively beloved (p. 168).

We as Christian healthcare professionals must assent to first things so that God’s love will make us lovers of the Lover, lovers of others, and even lovers of ourselves. If the law and the prophets hang on this transfiguring formula, perhaps our spiritual and professional composure as 21st century healthcare professionals does, too. Perhaps the Love, which is the transfiguring first thing will so fill us with light that our enlightenment will guide our healing work to bless the needs of the institutions and people to whom we are assigned. May they be healed, evolved, and blessed in the medicine that cures us.

The Kingdom Yet To Come

The future – which may or may not be very pleasant – is a kingdom yet to come, and in Kingdom Come the future is available to the sanity of God. To establish God’s kingdom we have been told to love God first, then others. We are to erect neither idols nor summon defenses to eclipse fear of Nothingness or of God or of the Day of Judgment. Because we are loved, we will love. Peter and John actualized this in the 1st century, and with God’s help we will actualize this in the 21st. Surely a second Pentecost is at hand. The stakes are very high and God loves human kind very much. Surely the Holy Trinity will burn us with new fire for a new era. This is the Something that will ameliorate the Nothing. This is the Next after the What Has Been. This is the Reconstitution after the Decompensation. This will be spiritual first, then psychological, then physical. In the Metamorphic moment the transfiguring light will illuminate our darkness and refine us into efficacious persons capable of facing our Day of Judgment – and our missions – fearlessly.

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Bottum, B. (2010). Christians and post-moderns. First Things, 201, 43-47.
Lyons, G. (2010). The next Christians. New York, NY: Doubleday.
McBrien, R. (1995). Encyclopedia of catholicism. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
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Rohr, R. (2008). Things hidden: Scripture as spirituality. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony
Messenger Press.
Sartorius, B. (2009). A collective symbolic life of nothingness in post-modern times. Spring: A
journal of archetype and culture, 82, 171-183.
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Charles Zeiders, Psy.D. is Clinical Director of Christian Counseling and Therapy Associates of the Main Line and holds privileges in the Department of Psychiatry at Bryn Mawr Hospital of the Main Line Health System, Bryn Mawr, PA. A Postdoctoral Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania’s famous Center for Cognitive Therapy, Dr. Zeiders is emeritus Chair of the Therapist Group of the Association of Christian Therapists. He is author of The Clinical Christ: Scientific and Spiritual Reflections on the Transformative Psychology called Christian Holism. Dr Zeiders is among the few Ivy League-trained clinicians who unify CBT, Jungian psychology, and Integrative Mental Health.

1. What post-modern cultural/societal conditions and stressors seem to most visibly affect those patients and colleagues with whom you work?

2. What applications of the “first things” of Jesus are most evident to you in your clinical practice and/or healing ministry?