by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM February 9, 2019
What do you see when you look in a mirror, in both the external glass looking back at you and the inner reflection mirrored within your heart?
When I worked as a communications director, I noticed several responses to this question. Seldom without a camera in hand, I observed how much people appreciated viewing photos. In scrutinizing pictures of a group in which they were included, individuals would often praise other members in the photo, complimenting them on their appearance. Those same individuals, however, would sometimes be highly critical of their own image, harping on what they perceived as flaws. This response happened with such frequency that it led me to wonder, what sets us up to be reluctant or hesitant in acknowledging our own beauty, both inner and outer? What makes us blind to the amazing creation each of us is?
One of the wisdom figures in my life witnessed for me a way of looking at herself with a healthy self-love while at the same time praising God’s artistry. She related that, when she gets up at dawn and stumbles out of bed, her daily practice is to look at her face in the bathroom mirror and greet what she sees with this pronouncement: “Good morning, beautiful!”
“Good morning, beautiful!” Perhaps the 15th century Indian poet, Kabir, was thinking along those lines when he wrote, “If a mirror ever makes you sad, you should know that it does not know you.” Another mystic, Catherine of Siena, spoke of the unintentional insult we direct to the Holy One when we criticize our appearance and worth and dismiss God’s handiwork:
“What is it
You want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body?
For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are gone.”
If we believe we’re the creation of the Holy One, why not move away from destructive self-criticism and move towards praising and giving thanks for what God has brought to birth in us? Why not imagine the utter delight of the Creator as the divine artist pauses to contemplate what love has brought into existence in us? Why not pray and worship with the words of Alan Cohen:
please help me to recognize
the truth about myself,
no matter how beautiful it is.”
One of the most powerful images of God’s delight in us appeared in a video clip that captured a baby held in his mother’s arms. For several minutes, the little one gazed at his mother with unblinking eyes as his mother returned the same ecstatic expression towards the child of her womb. In their uninterrupted gaze, I saw joy, of course, contentment and astonishment, yes. But also something else, something that could only be named pure, unfiltered, unmistakable adoration and worship. Love looking at Love. Beauty gazing at Beauty. On some deep, primal, intuitive level, the baby looking into the face of his mother and his mother returning that rapt gaze revealed the awe and delight with which the Holy One gazes at us.
The poet Hafiz described this as God saying,
“I am made whole by your life.
Each soul completes me.”
This is Holy Mystery indeed! That we complete the Holy One’s creation. That we help to make whole and bring to fullness the divine artistry. Me. You. Every person made in the image and likeness of the Holy One. So let’s name this for what it is, aware that no matter what is happening in our lives, no matter what choices, regrets, shame, and brokenness we might be carrying, we are still and always a thing of beauty in the eyes of the Holy One.
Our challenge, it seems, is to see with the vision of the Divine. To see from the perspective of the creation account in the Book of Genesis. There, God gazes at everything created by Love. God sees that it is good. Very good. Good and beautiful and beloved. So it is, and so are we.
You might want to practice this while gazing into a mirror.
Settle yourself in stillness with the Holy One.
Take a long, loving look at your image as created by God.
Give thanks that in the eyes of the Holy, you are beloved.
Greet yourself as a reflection of the Beautiful One.
Bring that insight to everyone you see this day.
Thank you for your prayer for all who were present for the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville.
Please now hold in your prayer the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY who will be part of a guided retreat I’ll be leading February 11-15. Thank you.
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9 thoughts on “Knowing Our Own Beauty”
Thanks for another insightful article. I will be praying for you this week as you guide Dom. Srs up in Sparkhill. A couple of them were ministering at St. Benedict until a couple of years ago. A few live not too far from St. B. Peace, Joan
Thank you, Joan, for your kind words and your prayer, both appreciated.
Beautiful Chris, this will stay on my computer forever!!!
Thanks, Angie. I’m honored and humbled to have my words find a place in your heart–and on your computer!
Thank you Sr. Chris for reminding us to be gentle with ourselves. It is so true that when we look at a photo we only see our flaws, and not all the beauty that is there. We forget how beautiful we are, we really are. Are we not made in the Creator’s image? Blessings to you, and much gratitude, always.
Blessings and thanks to you also, Kathy the Beautiful!
This is just wonderful, thank you so much Sr Chris. Hope you are feeling well.
Thanks, Barbara. You know I’m preaching first of all to myself! I’m doing okay in the “slow work of God.” I hope you and your family are well also.
You did it again Chris.
Now that the cataracts are gone
I can see the wrinkles.
Ugh! What a shock! So I will
remember that God loves me
wrinkles & all.
Thanks for your insights.
You always manage to get me