My mother is the most beautiful woman I know. She is 87; her skin is like paper and her arms and legs bruise easily; her hair is thin and difficult to style; her face wrinkled from age and too much sun . . . but I see none of this except when she points it out. To me, she is more beautiful than the Mona Lisa or the loveliest model who ever lived. She is beautiful because she has spent her life in service of God and neighbor – I having had the great blessing to be one of her nearest neighbors. She speaks of all the kind people who surround her, and I know that many of them are kind to her because of her kindness to them.
God created beauty: “He made everything beautiful in its time,” Solomon tells us (Eccl. 3:11). We are neither to eschew nor flaunt the natural beauty God has given us, but rather to find a balance in its pursuit. This balance begins with a painful recognition: “Is there any [way] to keep / Back beauty, keep it [. . .] from vanishing away?” the young maidens in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “The Leaden Echo” ask. “No there’s none,” the speaker assures them, “Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair.”
External beauty in this world is fleeting. Age, accident, disease: we shall all come under the inexorable sickle of time to find wrinkles and scars and wan cheeks and grey hairs, arthritis and the many aches and pains of old age. There is only one way to keep beauty: “Give beauty [. . .] back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.” God is beauty; God gives beauty; only God can keep our beauty safe with Him. To live we must die; to keep anything we must give it up.
Revelation describes the wedding feast to us, and how we – His Bride – shall be arrayed: “‘The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:7-8). I see my mother already dressed in fine linen for the feast, for she has been practicing righteous deeds all her life.
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” the Psalmist exhorts us. By all means dress beautifully – but to honor the One who created us and redeemed us, not to draw attention to ourselves. Dress beautifully – but dress first in the fine linen of obedience and good deeds, done not to impress people or gain God’s favor, but in response to so great a Love who dared to die to make us beautiful with the beauty of His own righteousness. Be free to be beautiful for His sake, for His honor, for His glory, knowing that all beauty comes from Him and honors Him if we live our lives for His glory.
John Paul II, in a commentary on Psalm 44, said, “When beauty is joined with goodness and holiness of life, heavenly radiance shines out upon the world, and we catch a glimpse of the goodness, the wonder, and the justice of God.” Celebrate His beauty today – His beauty given to you – in all that you are and do. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, world without end.