Every Epiphany season ends with the Gospel account of the Transfiguration. Here, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain and transfigures into sheer brightness in their presence. Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus. Peter’s reaction is to want to build three tents to memorialize the moment. A voice is heard from a cloud, echoing the words of the baptismal voice, “This is my son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased, listen to him.”
The transfiguration is a threshold moment, a thin place for it embraces an openness to change with the door left ajar to what has been left behind.
Threshold moments are places that catch us unaware. At best, they teach us lessons that we do not forget. Threshold moments, thin places, can be outside us or inside us, and they can transfigure us. They stop us “in our tracks”, whether it is actually happening to us or something we are observing from afar. We are caught for a moment, and then the question is: what changes within us? What have we learned about ourselves? What has this threshold moment mirrored in our own interior we had not been aware of before? A threshold moment, a thin space in which the truth is revealed, can come to us in a story. Listen to this threshold moment from one of the best story tellers I have ever had the privilege to meet, Dr. Fred Craddock.
Hardly a day goes by on which I do not recall, and usually with pleasure, some experience from my brief career as a clerk in a small general store. I was 16 years old, working after school during the week and all day on Saturday. “General store” is the operative term here. A general store is stocked to meet the needs of a family, and therefore is a grocery store, a clothing store, a drug store, a hardware store, and a school supply store. The customer need go nowhere else; he or she can go home from a general store equipped to feed a family, repair a roof, heal a cough, plant a garden, dress up for Sunday, or do homework for school.
It was imperative that I know the stock and, as far as possible, know the customers. General store customers are usually repeaters, and shopping is part of an important relationship. And so it was not long until I was selling, by the pound, by the inch, by the gallon, by the slice, by the yard, by the dozens. I loved selling and in my year there, I sold everything.
Well, not quite everything. There was a corner shelf for displaying school supplies and business there was often brisk. Except for pencils. We were well stocked on pencils but I never sold a one; not one.
I was hurt by my failure, and so I asked the owner why I was unable to sell pencils. “It’s not you, son; it’s the pencils. None of our pencils have an eraser. I’m sure if we carried pencils with erasers, they would sell.” “Then why don’t we get pencils with erasers?” “Because erasers invite carelessness; they tell you not to be so serious about what you write, after all, you can erase it; they have you thinking about erasing even before you write. Some people sign church pledge cards with pencils having erasers, or sign papers to get loans, or even sign a marriage license with a pencil having immediately available and offering itself, a nice, big eraser.”
I could tell by the tone of his voice how serious this matter was for him. The pencil in his pocket had no eraser. This conversation was a bit frightening. I became more deliberate in my writing at home and at school.
I carried his heavy words for about a week and then I approached him privately. “May I speak to you about the pencils?” “Sure, what’s on your mind” “Does God’s pencil have an eraser?” He was silent, apparently remembering something long ago. Then putting his hand on my shoulder he said, “I sure hope so son; I sure hope so.” [reprinted from the November 2013 Milk & Honey newsletter]
I sure hope so, son; I sure hope so. A thin place for Dr. Craddock and all of us who believe in the power of forgiveness and the mercy of God.