Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It’s About Time

"High notions of oneself are annihilated by a glance in the mirror."

—Nobel Poet, Czeslaw Milosz

A Botox cosmetic ad appears on our television screen that features a stunningly beautiful young model who smiles at the camera and murmurs, “It’s about time.” Exactly!

Time is the enemy. We invest in vitamin supplements, serums, tightening concentrates, firming creams, cellulite removers—a plethora of pills and potions—in an effort to stave off the effects of free-radical damage and try to stay alive, or at least look alive, as long as possible. We battle every age spot, blemish, and bulge, but nothing works very well, or for very long. The hours “fill our brow with lines and wrinkles,” Shakespeare lamented. The Greek god Chronis devoured his children, it was said, a sad reminder that time destroys all things. Time eventually catches up with us. We look our age and it’s not a pretty sight to see.

Jeremy Taylor, writing in the seventeenth century, put his finger on the issue. “First, age takes those parts that serve for ornamentation.” Thus, “every day calls for a reparation of that portion which death fed on all night.” Each morning we have to repair the damage that was done the night before. As an old friend of mine says: “A little powder, a little paint, makes a girl what she ain’t.”

And don’t think for a minute that men are immune to this compulsion. We too are appalled by what we see in the mirror, and each morning must give ourselves to restoration. But no matter what we do, the trend is down. It’s about time.

We, however, are not about time. We have been called to eternal glory! (1 Peter 5:10). Because Jesus died and rose again, our bodies will be rescued from the tyranny of decay, and—if we believe him—we shall share in the glory that belongs to us as the children of God and will be revealed in everlasting splendor. If we could but see ourselves today as we shall be then, we would be left speechless in awe and wonder. (I must add, however, that we’ll not be self-conscious then, but consumed with admiration for the beauty we see in others.)

In the meantime, though the outward person is perishing, we can invest in inward loveliness. The more we center on inner beauty, the less preoccupied we’ll be with an external glory that is fading away.

Here’s the thing: What I hold in my mind will, in time, show up in my face, for as George MacDonald once pointed out, the face is “the surface of the mind.” If I cling to bitterness and resentment, if I tenaciously hold a grudge, if I fail to forgive, my countenance will begin to reflect those moods. My mother used to tell me that an angry look might someday freeze on my face. She was wiser than she knew.

But in the same way, a generous and charitable heart, one filled with grace and forgiveness, will find its way to the surface—for goodness cannot be hidden—and show itself in kind eyes and a face that is gentle and wise.

So my task is not to try to fix my face and make it good (that would be hypocrisy), but to set about killing the ugly things that come out of my heart—“so ugly that they make the very face over them ugly also” (MacDonald). Yet I know my heart—how hard it is, how disinclined to change. No one but God can drive its sullen self-centeredness away. So I must ask Him by His power to fulfill every desire for goodness. Then, someday, my face may reflect the holiness He has put into my heart.

I have a friend, a Catholic priest, who served as Mother Teresa’s translator when she was in the United States to address the United Nations. I was in his study one day and spied a picture of the two of them standing together on the streets of New York. I marveled again at her ancient, wrinkled, leathered, lined face, utterly unadorned. Wisdom and character had drawn their lines. Gazing at those marks of courage and kindness, I thought: Is there anyone more homely—or more beautiful?

Hers was the beauty of holiness. May it be ours as well.


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