"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

23 April 2009

Beauty Meditations: Day Four

When I go shopping, I find myself drawn to lovely dresses that would look perfect on some size 2 model. But by the time I reach my size on the rack, they either look like huge grocery bags or as though they will easily show off every cookie and French fry I’ve ever dared to eat. The petite 20-something walking toward the dressing room with bits of slinky cloth that will actually fit her raises the envy that only an average woman can feel for youth, beauty, and slender hips.

On the other hand, when I see someone heavier and less attractive than I consider myself, that envy sometimes plays an even nastier trick in my soul, turning into a kind of self-righteous pity or contempt. Look at me, Lord, I’m not like that poor overweight, lackadaisical woman who doesn’t care about herself . . . and I return to my house as unjustified as the Pharisee in the parable.

Envy and contempt: twin evils that tempt us most dangerously when we focus on outward appearance as a sign of value. What I look like matters: it does convey a message to those who see me, and this is a simple reality of human nature we ignore at our own risk. If I’m applying for a job, I’d better dress professionally; if I’m going to a picnic, I need to leave the heels at home; if I don’t want to be considered a slob, I really ought to iron the blouse. But the fact that others judge my appearance does not excuse my judging others that way in turn: the person I am tempted to envy or condemn is not equivalent to her clothing or her figure or her make-up, and I am called to know the person, to love her as myself, to seek the image of God in her and show the love of God to her.

In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis’s characters from Purgatory are allowed to visit Heaven and choose whether to repent and stay or to hold onto their sin and be taken to Hell. The narrator is amazed at an incredibly beautiful woman, attended by angels and saints, and asks if she is Mary. Oh, no, he’s told; that’s Sarah Smith of Golders Green – “you’ll not have heard of her.” Why is Sarah Smith held in such esteem in Heaven? Why, because every child she met became as her own, yet loved his own parents the better because of her love; because every man she met learned to love his own wife the better for knowing her; because her life was an offering of God’s love to all she met.

We have all known a Sarah Smith, a woman who seems of no account in the world’s eyes – “just” a housewife or a store clerk or an invalid, and probably just as average in appearance as in station . . . and yet – more beautiful than anyone else we have ever known because the love of God shines from her every word and act. This is what will make any woman truly beautiful: “beholding the glory of the Lord [and] being transformed with the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

How are you cultivating the love of God in the way you live today? How do you see others living out His love? Thank God for His work in your life; and thank those around you for His gifts in them.

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