"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

20 April 2009

Beauty Meditations: Day One

I was honored to be asked by my college's Women's Ministry council to write some meditations on beauty for an activity they planned for the campus women for this week. I was impressed by their desire to present some challenges without being superficial or judgmental, and their thoughtfulness, their humility, their joyful loveliness. They've put the meditations together in a pamphlet, one for each day of the school week. I thought I would post them here each day as they might be of interest to others.

Meditations: Day One

Women long to know that we are beautiful. No matter how well or poorly our physical appearance may reflect contemporary social standards, we long to hear the words “You’re so beautiful” from someone who matters. Everywhere and in all ages, we have found ways to enhance and improve our natural features.

Sometimes we are told this desire is invariably a self-centered wrong: “you shouldn’t care about your appearance; be content and focus on serving” – as if beauty and service were mutually exclusive. But I cannot think that this is God’s view of it. Yes, indeed, in I Peter 3:3 we read, “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing [. . .] .” We would be foolish to ignore this exhortation from the pre-eminent apostle who walked and talked with our Lord – but what does the exhortation mean? Does it really mean “don’t ever dress up”?

It appears so at first: “Do not . . . .” But do not what? Wear gold jewelry, braid one’s hair . . . put on clothing? That third item means exactly what is generally translated: don’t put on clothing. There is no qualification: it doesn’t say “fancy” clothing, or “expensive” or “immodest”; it says, literally, “go naked.”

Obviously Peter is not telling us to be unclothed. And since that’s the case, perhaps he isn’t telling us, either, never to wear jewelry or braid our hair; perhaps we will find there is a place for these in our lives as godly women. Rather, he is drawing a contrast between two modes of behavior, two ways of gaining attention. He addresses wives in this passage, instructing them to win over husbands who are disobedient to God’s Word, not by nagging and not through attention-getting dress, but by “respectful and pure conduct” (v. 2) – by their righteous behavior.* They are to demonstrate godly lives which will draw others to the Lord they obey.

He addresses wives, but haven’t we all attempted to attract the attention of others, especially men, by our appearance? A new hairstyle, a sexy dress with heels, just the right make-up, some flashy jewelry – and surely they will notice me now. But this is not the way we should go about gaining attention, not in fact the purpose of attention. To dress in order to draw attention to the self is a self-centered wrong. Instead, it is “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (v. 4) which will attract the right kind of attention – the thought-provoking attention that changes lives by drawing them to the Source of life.

Are your words, gestures, deeds those of a woman who loves the Lord? To whom are they drawing attention? Yourself – or your Lord who lives in you?

*No, wives are not to be silent doormats or take abuse – but that is a subject for another time and place.

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