October 2005 Anglican Church Letter
Our monthly spiritual uplift from Keith
The world is a beautiful place. Christians believe that we are made in the image of God and so we are beautiful as well. I don't believe the aphorism that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, if that means that it lies ONLY in the eye of the beholder. Real beauty is not superficial at all - it is what you make of yourself. That statement is not accidental. All Christians - probably most theists - believe in a Creator God - and God knows that all he created is beautiful, however much dirt we cover ourselves in, however much we try our hardest to be less than beautiful.
So, we may appear less than beautiful to those whose perception is limited to our appearance at any particular moment. Actually most of us find ourselves less than beautiful, as we look back at the things we have thought and done. But God is more forgiving and sees the real us whether we like it or not.
True happiness lies in knowing ourselves well enough to begin to comprehend God's vision of us. The trick, of course, lies in getting to know ourselves that well - not easy, because typically we are extremely good at keeping ourselves hidden, even from ourselves.
Perhaps beauty really does lie in the beholder, because the only way to see ourselves as beautiful is to discover that others see us in that way and to learn to see ourselves through their eyes. Mother Teresa was certainly not beautiful in the glamour mag sense by the time that she became famous throughout the world, but she was beautiful in every other sense because she cared for others and had not a care in the world for herself.
If we care for God's Creation enough, then we will reflect that beauty in ourselves and our own beauty will shine through. I am not an avid environmentalist or a member of the Green Party - I like meat, just as others of God's creation like meat, but I dislike cruelty, in a way that others of God's creatures could not understand. Our cat torments the mice or moles that it catches, without knowing it - but I do - so my meat eating and my other 'animal' instincts have to be moderated at all times by my understanding of Love and of caring. This moderation is partly the result of development - historical development - the extent of the moderation is progressive.
It is no good us now in the 21st Century complaining of the (to us) unbelievable cruelty of times past - possibly even of other cultures that exist today. We will probably all be vegetarians in times to come - maybe the lion will learn to be so too and the Biblical prophecy of the lion lying down with the lamb will come to pass - but we are not there yet. In the meantime we can only do our best to care for God's Creation as best we can, without mentally crucifying ourselves because we crush insects and plants every time we go for a country walk. Eventually we may be able to effectively subscribe to such high standards of care - but not yet. For now we should try to advance the standards that we have to higher and better levels.
In this way, we will actually learn to know and to appreciate the beauty of Creation more and more. We will also unconsciously reveal more and more of our own beauty. Wordsworth wrote a poem with an impossible title - 'Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Childhood'. I was told some years ago by a family friend who was an Anglican priest that aspects of this poem are heretical from a Christian standpoint - and it is the passage to which he took exception that I wish to quote - if it is heretical in word, it is not in Spirit!
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But, trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
If we can accept this version of our birth and our origins, then who can doubt that at that point we are beautiful. And the same applies to all of God's Creation.
The poem goes on to describe how we become soiled by our lives, imprisoned by our badness. But nothing changes our fundamental nature. We tend to characterise some people as just evil through and through - we think of Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic and Saddam - but that really is too easy. What they did may have been inexcusably evil, but we cannot understand the reasons for them becoming like that - and we have to understand that inside they were still the pure human beings that they were at the moment they were born with Souls trailing clouds of glory from God.
I like to remember that cynical, nasty man in Charles Dicken's 'A Tale of Two Cities' - Sidney Carton. While not being of the evil calibre of the men named above, he was a rather nasty piece of work. But in the end that innate core of loving goodness emerges - and for the first time that he can remember he discovers that he is beautiful. By one act of love and caring, he totally redeems himself and throws off the viciousness that has always seemed to be his cloak. Those who have read the book will remember its last words - spoken by Sidney Carton as he awaits execution -
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;
It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
It is for us all to remember our origins and to reflect on our destinations and to simply be our true selves in our relations with other people and with all of God's creation. If you doubt your beautiful origin, you might care to think of a one line thought that Ralph Wright had. His brother was Abbott of Ampleforth, who wrote that 'This prayer attracts me because it highlights the truth that only God understands the uniqueness which is each one of us'. Ralph wrote that when God made you there was silence for five minutes.
Then God said 'How come I never thought of that before?'