I have a good friend who is a high school teacher. Last year she had a class of students who were one of the most difficult that she ever had.
The spitballs and practical jokes were one thing, but the disruptions had a disturbing way of snowballing into uglier confrontations.
When the students began calling each other names, she called a halt to it all with an unusual assignment.
She directed the students to write the names of their classmates on a sheet of paper and leave space between each name. Then she instructed each student to write something good and positive about the individual in the space next to his or her name.
This assignment was to be taken seriously, she warned: what they wrote would be turned in for her review — and a grade. The students went to work and their papers collected.
The next day she surprised the students by giving each of them a copy of the nice things their classmates had written about them. Not a word was said — a first for this group — as each student read and re-read their lists.
At the end of the class, one of the students handed the teacher a piece of paper. Her name was at the top of the page, and below it every student had written what they admired about her and signed their names to it.
This simple exercise was a moment of transfiguration for this high school class: the good, the positive, the grace each student possessed finally came to the surface.
What remained unsaid was finally spoken; the hidden was revealed — much as the divine character of Jesus was revealed to Peter, James and John on the mount of the Transfiguration.
That same sense of the holy dwells within each one of us, calling us to “transfigure” our lives and our world in God’s compassion, justice and reconciliation.
When my friend told me her story and about her assignment I thought that would be a great exercise for Lent. Sitting down with a pen and paper or in front of my computer and think about the people who just drive me crazy. And after each name instead of writing the list of stuff that drives me crazy about that person I will write at least one good thing about that person. If I’m brave enough maybe I will write to that person and share with that person the good that I see in him or her.
Even if I don’t write to that person and just keep what I’ve written to myself I’ve taken the time to pray for someone in a different way and I’ve taken the time to see the good in them and when I do I will at the same time the real presence of Jesus in them.
In realizing that sense of God’s life and love within them and within ourselves, we can become, like these students, a means of “transfiguration,” enabling others to realize the holiness and grace that exists within them, enabling all of us to transform despair into hope, sadness into joy, anguish into healing, estrangement into community.