"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

22 April 2009

Beauty Meditations: Day Two

I should have posted this yesterday:

This morning I put on make-up. I don’t always; my skin requires a very expensive brand, and it takes time I don’t always wish to spend. But today I woke feeling tired and out-of-sorts, and watching the dark circles and age spots disappear, along with some irritating blemishes and a scratch or two, made me feel a little perkier, a little more ready to face the day. I was careful, however, to put medication on those scratches and blemishes before I covered them up. Otherwise, by day’s end, they’d be much worse, perhaps even infected. The healing process would take that much longer, and require that I eschew make-up altogether for several days – whether I wanted to or not – while openly sporting the painful sores caused by my own negligence.

Just as there’s little worse for our skin than covering up blemishes without treating them, there’s little worse for our souls than putting on a beautiful façade to cover festering sin. How often do we mask anger and irritation with a bright false smile, jealousy with a sham compliment, contempt with a condescendingly kind act – only to allow those ungodly attitudes to lie unchecked and unhealed beneath the surface?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees!” Jesus cried. “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27).

Of course, it isn’t particularly better to pretend that “just as I am” means it’s somehow all right to remain a physical and spiritual slob. Casual dress and no make-up are frequently appropriate, but consistently taking no care for our appearance suggests laziness of spirit as well as body. I’m not talking about the wild hair and sweaty results of hard work or hard play – I’m talking about the deliberate choice to appear to the world as though it is somehow beneath us to make a little effort to look nice. Just “being myself” without trying to improve is always unattractive, both physically and spiritually.

The woman who dresses and acts like a hypocrite, hiding sin under exterior beauty, eventually fools no one; that very beauty draws attention to her unlovely heart. The woman who refuses to care for her appearance also draws attention to herself, causing others to wonder if she cares as little about her heart as her appearance.

In either case, the need is clear: to learn how we can look and act so that we draw attention to the Lord who died for us. First of all we must care for heart and soul – developing the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (I Pet. 3:4). Smoothing the healing balm of the Holy Spirit’s power on the blemishes and scratches of our sin, we can be free to look and act what we are: the glorious Bride of Christ, holy and spotless before Him. Then His heart desire will be fulfilled in us as we bring glory to Him, serving our neighbors in the wonder and power of His love.

A smile when we feel angry, a kind word or act when we feel jealous or contemptuous: these aren’t hypocrisy – as long as the sin that threatens us in those feelings is being treated by the Great Physician and the smile or word or act shows our heart desire to be healed of it. Only we know for sure; look in the mirror to find His beauty.

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