Simply by casual observation over a period of many years, I have become convinced that most people around the world, whatever their culture or human background may be, are each and all instinctively concerned, even deeply anxious about their looks, how they appear bodily or socially in the presence of others.
I am an Anglo person, born and raised in North America. I can speak, therefore, of the values, customs and practices of the people with whom I am best acquainted.
Of the many countries around the world, I have a sense that we North Americans have an excessive, even an overpriced sense of self. You may imagine that I speak mainly of the females of our race. However, that may not be true. Indeed, when I paw through the toiletry articles in my bathroom cabinet, I am astonished by how much I spend on articles that I assume will make me more attractive (or a least respectable) in public. As a celibate cleric, I begin to question my values.
Nonetheless, the cosmetic industry knows us more intimately than we might imagine: the television and print industry are filled with advertisements that promise to make and keep us the new person we have always hoped to be. It’s all a “put-on” of course; as humans we look pretty much the age we happen to be, nothing much changes except false hope or vanity. I am sure there is a certain justifiable pride in this unique creature that stares back at us in the mirror at the beginning of each day. What is overlooked in all this is our interior sense of who we truly are.
Thus it has been with us human creatures tracing our history back its beginnings. We catch a hint of this for instance in the Hebrew Scriptures assigned for reading on Feb. 11. The book of Leviticus describes the fierce and cruel anxiety the Israelite people had regarding external communicable diseases; they were commonly referred to as leprosy. Here then is a quote from Leviticus: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare; he shall cry out ‘Unclean, unclean,’ since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
It all sounds extremely cruel, but given the lack of medicine in those times, it may have been their only option.
The Gospel describes a similar situation of a man with a disfigurement who appeals to Jesus for a cure. Notice the difference in tone in Jesus’ words: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said ‘I do will it. Be cured.’ The leprosy left him then and there.”
There may be a further question to answer beyond the issue of facial disfigurement: I mean the manner in which people tend to treat others who are different from them, socially, sexually, ethnically, politically spiritually. So many names and negative titles are given to those with whom we disagree.
We began with the question of external appearances. I suggest that the real question relates not to externals but to the interior person that deserves dignity and respect.
This stems from the heart of us all; cosmetics plays no part. Deep inside, we are beautiful people.
Feb. 11 Scriptures
Leviticus 13: 1-2, 44-46
1 Corinthians 10: 31-11
Mark 1: 40-45