“I say that inner beauty doesn’t exist. That’s something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves.” OSMEL SOUSA, the longtime head of the Miss Venezuela pageant on the popularity of plastic surgery in Venezuela.
This is a quote from today’s NY Times talking about their article on the popular rise of plastic surgery in Venezuela. The article focuses on the growing popularity of mannequins with the “ideal” shape for a woman.
What fascinates me about this article and this quote is the absolute clear connection between an increasingly secular mindset and the loss of any eternal perspective of human life. Another article in the Times talks about a new case before the Supreme Court in the US concerning prayers offered at the beginning of city council or other government meetings. A picture in the Times shows an atheist holding a sign that says “Keep Your Theocracy out of My Democracy.”
While these two different articles may seem to be totally disconnected, nothing could be further from the truth. They both flow from the same mindset of the loss of the eternal.
But, make no mistake, this philosophical and psychological poverty isn’t harmless. It portends what the loss of the eternal has always caused in every age and in every society where this loss has ever occurred – death.
In our Epistle Lesson today, St. Paul writes to the Church in Philippi and he says: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:1-8)
St. Paul centers his identity in his relationship with Jesus Christ. All his past prestige in his religious leadership he considers worthless because it was not centered in Christ. He even gives us his religious pedigree and it is an impressive one at that! But when he compares this pedigree with a life in Christ, he immediately sees what’s valuable and what isn’t.
By the way, St. Paul is not saying that the wisdom he learned in his past faith was useless. On the contrary, it was the wisdom of that centuries old faith that brought him to Christ in the first place. Now he better understands the wisdom of the faith he has always known because of Christ. That’s what St. Paul is teaching the Philippians and us today. It is Christ that is the Face of my true identity, and not mere rule keeping or reducing my faith to mere nostalgia. No, it is a vibrant and purposeful and growing relationship in Christ that is to be prized and valued above all others!
And, it is only this central reality of true identity in Christ that will ever provide the societal antidote to the poverty of soul currently growing in our world. We Orthodox Christians must begin and continue to seriously love God and others more than our temporary comforts and we must drink deeply from the wisdom of the Way of Faith preserved for us. No wonder Christ called the Church the Salt of the Earth. It is our mindset of focusing on Christ and His Life, His Love, and His Wisdom that shapes first in our minds, then in our hearts, and ultimately into our outward choices and behaviors into true humans created in God’s image to be made into His Likeness.
The illusion of a “mannequin” image is the soul’s prison. It is only in the Face of Him Who IS truly Human that I will ever discover my real identity.
Today, where do you fall into the trap of confusing your real self with the illusions of a modern world and their message about who you should be? What shallow lies, subtle and even sweet, have you fell for that cloud the face of Christ in your life?
Today, shake off the delusion of a shallow image and look long and deep into the Face of Him Who is your true icon. Find in Him an eternal worth, value, and beauty that escapes the gravitational tug downward of mere existence. You were made for cosmic places. Settling for less is such a tragedy. Today, dare to believe that every other trinket offered to you is unworthy, and step into the Church to See Your Real Self!