Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beauty and Beauty

An excerpt from Fallen Beauty by Jenny Schroedel:
Take Mother Teresa, a frail 87-year-old woman, almost bent double by the time she died. Age spots and all, she shone with a transcendent, almost irresistible beauty. Photographers sought to capture her hands clasped in prayer, skin sagging like crushed tissue paper. They wanted to retain the curve of her back, bent in perpetual prayer and service. Even her feet, cracked nails and oddly hooked toes, did not escape the photographers’ gaze. Amazingly, Christ was also physically nondescript. Isaiah prophesied a homely Messiah: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Is 53:2).
Can you take a moment to look at the two different faces of Christ? One picture is Jesus suffering and the other is Jesus in His perfect health. Same person; different types of beauty. I've been churning this thought for sometime and it distills down to this: There are two types of beauty. The beauty of strength and the beauty of weakness.

If I am paying attention correctly, the world at large is really only comfortable with the beauty of strength. This is exhibited in the praise of youth, unblemished skin, muscular men, fit women, monetary riches, popularity, political influence, technological mobility, self-sufficiency, and yada, yada, yada. These things are almost raised up as virtues and, as a specimen of our society, are on display at supermarket magazine stands all over the country: Look what television personality lost weight this week! Look which celebrity should be more relevant in your life! Look what Hollywood starlet went to what club! Look who wore what where! Ah, the allure of strength is powerful, isn't it? I have a friend who told me that "you know when you're doing a good job at disconnecting from fluff when you go into the supermarket and cannot recognize anyone on magazine covers." That was deep for me. Can you imagine if all this "vanity" (read the Book of Ecclesiastes) disappeared from your life? What better time can be spent? What better thoughts could be thought? Wow.

And then comes the beauty of weakness -- something the world doesn't admire and, usually, even aspire to look at. I'll start with the icon of the suffering Christ. To a non-Christian, Jesus scorned and bloodied can be a disturbing graphic because -- let's face it -- human disfigurement is nothing attractive, but a Christian can look at the same sacred icon and think it's the most beautiful image in the world. That's a pretty big disparity, isn't it? Well, I think both perspectives are correct; like two facets of a diamond reflecting light at different angles. Human suffering is an evil and yet sometimes, if there is no other way, one person has to suffer the effects of evil to enable saving another: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" (John 15:13 NIV). Now can you see why Christ's weakness is beautiful? As bitter was the ridicule, scorning, spitting, beard ripping, flogging, mock crowning, cross carrying, stripping, and crucifixion, He endured it all for love.

As for Mother Teresa, she toiled hard to give comfort to the needy, and those decades of selfless giving took a toll on her physical appearance. Such wear and tear may be aghast to world's beauty-strong, but it is evidently the higher beauty in the eyes of God: When Christ resurrected Himself, He kept the wounds of His hands, feet, and side (see John 20:27). Why? I believe as a memento to His life-giving love.

If, by God's grace, you are in the Resurrection of Life (see Rev 20:5-6), which beautiful weakness would you keep to tell the story of your love? The bullet wound from serving in the armed forces? The stretch marks from pregnancy? The scar from your Cesarean section? A wrinkled brow from years of stress? Perhaps Mother Teresa will choose her rough hands; maybe St. Paul will choose the line on his neck from his beheading; and St. Damien a sore or two from his care of lepers. Perhaps only Christ, being the perfect suffering servant, is the only one worthy to retain wounds, but it's still an interesting meditation nonetheless.