That’s right, I partook of the forbidden fruit; I’ve always been a sucker for a vampire story. And I think that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is that. Now, I’m not saying it’s great literature, nor am I disputing that it contains disturbing material, especially for a young audience – but I did enjoy the action and came to care about the story’s resolution; and I think that its popularity provides us with a slew of opportunities to share truths of our Faith. (We need to seize these teachable moments whenever we can!) NOTE: SPOILERS ABOUND. Take, for instance, the character Bella’s transformation into a vampire; it strikes me as a fantastic jumping-off point for talking about the resurrection/glorification of the body.
Yes, in book four our protagonist Bella is finally transformed into the bloodsucker she had always hoped. But you see, the vampires of Twilight, while being blood-drinkers, aren’t your run-of-the-mill, B-movie bloodsuckers. No, they are creatures of light. That’s right – in sunlight they become luminous. Their skin refracts the light like a diamond; but I digress. Now I know this will sound disgusting, but the agent of Bella’s transformation was venom from the teeth of her beloved, the pretty-yet-masculine vampire, Edward. What I found so fascinating though was how the venom worked: it coursed through Bella’s body, an unseen, transforming fire. She felt as if she had been taken out of time; nothing existed for her but the fire. Her weakness and imperfections were re-cast as it methodically worked its way through her body, the flames finally drawing in and focusing upon the heart. And then she awoke…as if seeing reality for the first time.
In my mind, that is purgatory – an encounter with “God, [Who] is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). It can take place completely in this life, or it can be finished after our death; it all depends on how much we cooperate in the process. In 1 Peter 1:7 we’re given the image of God refining us like gold in fire. He visits us in trials, allowing them to bring imperfections to the surface. And then with God’s grace we deal with them. We allow the Holy Spirit, often imaged by fire, to purify and transform us. God has to “pry us open” and deal with what we keep hidden in the depths of our souls. Jesus was adamant that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). When we shed our bodies at death do the impurities, the imperfections in our capacity to love, just disappear? If they are in the heart, and we take that with us, then no — and thus the need for an encounter with the fire of God’s Love after death. The Apostle Paul spoke of such a purification accompanying our judgment, “the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
And this brings me to my next point — Bella’s new vampiric life as an image of resurrection and the glorification of the body. I was struck by how similar this “new” Bella was to the risen Jesus. First, there’s the subtlety of the body — to think is to move; there’s no more friction between mind (spirit) and matter. Bella’s senses are sharpened and integrated by a new mental agility — she recognizes beauty even in whirling specks of dust. The speed with which she moves reminds me of Jesus, appearing and disappearing as He chose. And then there is Bella’s changed appearance — even her own father needed reassurance that it was her. We see something similar in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. He appeared and spoke with people who had known Him in his former life; but they didn’t recognize Him, not until He desired (Luke 24:16; John 20:14). The prior form is there, but it has been changed. With resurrection, the beauty of the soul, and the beauty of God within the human soul, must show through the body in a new way. The ability to disclose ourselves to another must become dependent on something more than our appearance registering on another’s ocular nerve and cerebral cortex. (There’s mystery here to be sure — can’t wait to discover the answer!)
The other thing that strikes me is how Bella’s metamorphosis allows her to interact with her beloved Edward on a completely different level. It wasn’t until Bella was transformed that she could really engage Edward physically. They had married, and they had consummated that union; but Edward was always having to hold back, unable to unleash the full force of his passion because Bella was simply too fragile to handle it. There’s something to be said there about our relationship with God. In the beginning, He may seem to treat us with kid gloves. But as we progress, as we begin to mature, He begins calling us to embrace more and more of the Cross — for virtue to grow and be solidified through trial. When we read the saints, we catch glimpses of how each step on the road to Heaven brought deeper, more intense experiences of God’s presence. Like Bella, they found themselves bruised at times — but they “hardened” (becoming, in fact, more and more tender) and able to engage God as slightly more mature children. Their vision is sharpened, and they see the world a bit more clearly — sharing the gaze of its Maker. (Don’t you get the feeling that when Mother Teresa looked at a street in Calcutta, she saw something there that escapes you and me? Rest assured, now that her transformation is complete, she sees even more.)
By our being fused to the humanity of Jesus, we “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Saints have used the image of a piece of iron, plunged into a fire: even though it remains iron, it takes on the “nature,” the characteristics and properties of the fire – its heat and color. Jesus has opened up a new way of being human. Listen to how St. Paul describes Jesus’ Church, His Spouse; she is “the fullness of Him Who fills the universe” (Ephesians 1:23). The Church, joined to Jesus, is “Christ come to full stature” (Ephesians 4:13). In Jesus, we will be engulfed in God’s Fiery Love, in God Himself! “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
[Originally published 12/26/09]