We’ve just returned from a gorgeous beach wedding. The daughter of dear friends was married in the church of her mother’s childhood. The service was extremely meaningful and sentimental… not one of those “let’s-rush-through-the sacrament-so-we-can-get-to-the-party” affairs. It was a time of joy and forgiveness, everyone there united in their loving support of the new couple.
I cried. (Big Surprise!) Forgot the tissue, as always.
We (husband, Middle Child, and I) had arrived at the destination earlier in the week for some R and R before the Big Event. It was sweet to return to a resort we’d visited several times when the children were younger. We have friends who live in the area, and happened to run into some college friends who were there for another wedding, so it was a time of reunion in addition to being a celebration of union. The connection with the place actually goes back even further: my parents, the grandparents of the bride, and the parents of another friend attending the wedding had made yearly trips there together for 22 years.
Special place. Special people. Special time.
Old friends and new ones. I particularly loved being with some young friends who identified themselves as Margery readers. (Hey, y’all! Thanks for reading!) Their words of encouragement were a true blessing.
We all wanted to look our best for this black tie event. Women discussed what they were going to wear. We tried to figure out how to keep our hair from frizzing in the humidity. Tried to get a little sun. Worked out. Did our nails. I don’t have a lot of time these days to spend on personal upkeep. I have to let things go…forget to schedule hair appointments, get pedicures only when my feet are covered in barnacles, rarely work out. So, just for fun, I really wanted to try to fix up and look my personal best. (I didn’t. Hair frizzed, makeup dripped. Oh, well.)
In the days preceding the wedding, there was a lot of time for observation. That is what I do. I suppose that’s one reason why I’ve discovered this latent ability to write: I have always been an observer of people. (I must have inherited it from my mother, who says she could happily sit in an airport for hours just looking at people.) People really are fascinating to watch. I guess I try to figure out what makes them tick. Why do we make the choices we make? (For instance: Young man by the pool, do you really think that rose tattoo around your nipple enhances your appearance in some way?) I have to check myself in the judging-by-appearance category sometimes.
Anyway, there were plenty of interesting people to observe at the resort. I’ve never seen so many who appear to have eating disorders, from young girls in teeny weeny bikinis, to much older ladies. I witnessed several exercise addicts in action at the gym. One in particular fascinated me. Judging from her face and hair, she must have been at least 80. No exaggeration. Ask my husband. But the body looked like it belonged to a severely anorexic eighteen-year-old. She was on the elliptical for an hour; then she hit the weights, lifting like a man. I left the gym, but later came back through. She was still there, fiercely rowing on the machine as if her life depended on it. I couldn’t help but wonder what her motivation was. What force drove her to exercise until there was nothing left but bone covered with sinewy muscle and tissue-thin skin? What fear?
Taking a walk on the beach, my friend and I witnessed cases of implausible (and unfortunate) plastic surgery. Almost self-mutilation. Back by the pool, people baked in the sun for hours and hours, their backs splotched brown and bright red where skin had already peeled off. One woman applied sunscreen obsessive-compulsively to her face. Over and over again until it was completely white. Dear Lord, I thought, the lengths we go to trying to look good.
Attempting a nap one hot afternoon, I thought about it. Why do we care? Why is the physical covering of our spirits…our true selves…so important? Much, much too important for some of us.
I believe we have an innate desire for beauty. To observe it, to absorb it, but also to be it. To be beautiful.
Humans come with an inborn need for love. Obviously, we think that the prettier the package is, the more affirmation and approval…love…we’ll receive. Scientific studies have proven this out. People who are perceived as more attractive are also perceived as more of everything good…intelligent, trustworthy, etc. (Sorry, but they’ve also proven that blondes do have more fun! Thanks, Clairol.)
In addition to a need for love, we also have an inborn need for beauty in and of itself. A congenital sense of aesthetics. For instance, a baby will reach for a shiny object over a dull one. I don’t think anyone has to be taught that a brilliant sunset over a frothy sea is beautiful. We just know.
As I said, I was dreamily thinking about these things, but also kind of asking God about it. Lord, why do I care so much about looking good? Why do I compare myself to others, and feel lacking? Why do we as a society put so much emphasis on it? Obsess about it?
Revelation dawned slowly. God created us to be beautiful; He created Beauty itself. All of His creation is beautiful. (What we’ve done with it is another thing.) Perhaps we are just trying to get the outside of the package, which is heir to the imperfections of a sullied creation, to match the inside: the essential self, created in the beautiful image of God.
I remembered a time when I found myself over my head in a prayer situation. Healing prayer is an integral part of our church in Athens, Georgia. A wise and wonderful member (who happens to be a therapist) has introduced the teachings of Dr. Francis McNutt to our congregation, and classes on healing prayer are taught. I had taken Level One. That means first grade. Still, here I was praying with a young woman who was going through a nightmarish time of betrayal. Emergency prayer. (Like, I don’t know how else to help you, so let’s pray. Gotta do something about this pain.) Following the precepts from the prayer class, I asked her to describe how she was feeling. She said one word: Insufficient. She felt utterly negated in every way. Then I took one of those terrifying leaps of faith. I asked God to tell her how He felt about her. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, a word clearly formed in my mind.
I was expecting “Loved” or something like that. But the word was Beautiful. It came with a particular type of chill that I have come to associate with confirmation. There was no way I was gonna tell her, though. She wouldn’t have believed me. Outloud, I said, “Please tell her, Lord. Speak to her inmost spirit. You tell her.” We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I kept praying silently, sweating bullets. Tell her, tell her, oh please tell her very clearly, Daddy. Minutes passed. Now, “beautiful” was the last thing in the whole world that young woman felt at the time. She had been absolutely decimated. Completely stripped of self-esteem. So I asked her, “Is there a word that has popped into your mind, but you are afraid or embarrassed to say?” She nodded imperceptibly. “Tell me,” I begged.
More minutes passed. Then she tearfully whispered a word. I leaned down to make sure I heard right. I asked her to repeat it. She cleared her throat.
Beautiful, she whispered.
For some reason, the description of the lady in heaven from Lewis’ The Great Divorce has come to mind:
"I cannot remember now whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my mind the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face." (The Great Divorce, chapter 12.)
Something occurred to me, during this sweet and sentimental wedding of a gracefully beautiful bride:
In God’s eyes, we are all* beautiful brides, coming down the narrow aisle of life straight into His waiting arms.
You are beautiful.
“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes…” (Song of Songs 4:9)
“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)
*Note: I don’t mean to imply by the next to the last sentence in the post that I am a universalist. I’m referring to His desire for us. We are still given the gift of free choice in deciding whether or not to put on the ring.
So that this may become a conversation: Why do you think appearance is so important that people are willing to go to extreme measures in order to “improve” it? I’m interested in your thoughts. Just hit “comment” and tell me what you think. (Please.)