Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year B

Last Sunday after the Epiphany

For the first time, again

February 14, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

Between Jesus’ call to the cross and his healing a man with epilepsy, this moment emerges—his closest friends see his face, as if for the fist time, on the mountaintop.



Arts & Architecture

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

Roberta Flack


Ms. Flack singing this iconic piece.

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History & Culture

Bishop Richard Allen and Changing the Narrative

Rayshawn Graves

The Witness: BBC

Tells the story of black Philadelphians’ work in saving and tending white citizens who had contracted the yellow fever and how the black citizens were not only not properly acknowledged but were, instead, slandered with lies suggesting they had sought to take advantage of the whites whose lives they helped to save at great personal risk and with unsung courage.

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Arts & Architecture

Gerard Manley Hopkins's Sonnet...

Gerard Manley Hopkins and staff writer, The Washington Post

The Washington Post

Gerard Manley Hopkins's sonnet as an example of the importance of praise in the midst of challenge.

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In whose face have you seen the face of God?


Years ago, in a concert I still recall, one piece took my breath away. It was Roberta Flack’s grammy winner, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Isabella, the young woman who sang it, absolutely captured the soul of that song. Everything else faded away as she sang,

The first time ever I saw your face,
I thought the sun rose in your eyes.
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
to the dark and the endless skies, my love.
To the dark and the endless skies.

And the first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand.
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
that was there at my command, my love, that was there at my command, my love.

And the first time ever I lay with you,
I felt your heart so close to mine.
And I knew our joy would fill the earth, and last till the end of time, my love.
And it would last till the end of time, my love

The first time ever I saw your face,
Your face,
Your face,
Your face.

It is the face of Jesus that is our concern on this Feast of the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus and the prophets dazzling with the light of God. The Jews call this the tabor light, or the shekhinah. A light that reveals God’s glory in someone.

Peter and James and John climbed a mountain with Jesus, step after step they went. Below were the people they had fed, Jesus had healed, argued with, and taught. Doubtless they were weary—physically exhausted, mentally drained, and emotionally and spiritually overwhelmed. And so they would be again.

But for these early morning hours, they were away from all of it, hiking up the side of a mountain with Jesus, not having the slightest notion what lay ahead of them as they ascended.

I daresay none of them could tell you the moment it happened. I wonder if each thought to say something to the other and then fell silent, fearing he was the only one seeing it. Until, Peter, in true form, broke the silence with abrasive practicality.

But before Peter broke into the silence, all three of them saw it. Jesus’ face, dazzling like his garment. As if for the first time, they saw him. Different. Dazzling. Like the sun rose in his eyes.

This is a curious story. At first blush, it seems oddly out of place—fanciful, almost magical—and stuck right in between two hard, harsh gospel stories—the call to the cross and the healing of an person with epilepsy. Something arresting, utterly captivating— placed in the middle of hard things.

Surprising, and yet, not. God dazzles us not where we're already enjoying the light--but where the darkness offers the sharpest contrast.

This week, we celebrate the life, courage, and ministry of The Reverend Absalom Jones, the first African American to be ordained priest in The Episcopal Church. His purchase of his freedom for himself and his family from slavery and his founding of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia are both widely known in our tradition. Lesser known is his work, together with countless other African Americans, to save lives and care for the sick and dying afflicted with the yellow fever of 1793 in Philadelphia. A white physician, Dr. Benjamin Rush, erroneously believing that black citizens were immune from the plague, implored The Rev. Jones and Bishop Richard Allen to ask black citizens to engage in the care for white souls and bodies. This they did—at great peril to their own lives and typically without any expectation of remuneration. For their sacrificial acts of love, they were rewarded with slander by whites who suggested they sought to take advantage of those whom they so lovingly and courageously tended. At best, they were faintly thanked as “the help”—rather than, as the saviors they were, as Rayshawn Graves notes (see today’s history and culture lesson). Graves notes, “While blacks were caring for the lives of many of those who reviled and disdained them, infected whites were placing their fragile lives in the hands of those who had every cause to display hostility and vengeance” (citation in history and culture lesson for this week).

Without a doubt, white citizens whose lives were in the hands of those they had always treated as sub-human saw the face of God. And while they were being hated by the very ones whose lives they were saving, courageous black citizens relentlessly looked for the face of God. It was, for them, a way of life to look for the dazzling face of God in the midst of the harsh realities of hatred constantly aimed at them.

Eighty-four years after The Rev. Absalom Jones and Bishop Richard Allen led the black community of Philadelphia to be the face of God to white citizens afflicted with the yellow fever, a young priest penned this poem in the year of his ordination:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
—Gerard Manly Hopkins, 1877

To me, these are words about transfiguration. In the very midst of the world seared, bleared, smeared with man’s smudge—with our vilest hatred and evil deeds—in the very center of it all, there lives “the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Love, compassion, courage in the face of race hatred. Hope, reaching for something better. In 1793, in 1877, today.

Tabor light. The earth moving in your hand, like the trembling heart of a captive bird. The clamor. The smudge. The shining face like shook foil. Then, back down the mountain.

But before the clamor claims you again, in the stillness of the mountaintop, you remember. You remember—deep down under all human hatred, all debased action and intent, the face of God shines.

In the eyes of a beloved or an enemy or a stranger, you see. And you rise, unafraid. To descend the mountain.

Beneath the smeared soil, lives the dearest freshness deep down things—things that make us strong and brave.

The face of God. Tabor light. Shekinah. Shining from shook foil. For the first time, again.