I am weathered but still elegant, oh, dear sisters in Jerusalem, Weather-darkened like Kedar desert tents, time-softened like Solomon’s Temple hangings. Don’t look down on me because I’m dark, darkened by the sun’s harsh rays. My brothers ridiculed me and sent me to work in the fields. They made me care for the face of the earth, but I had no time to care for my own face.
Get up, my dear friend, fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! Spring warblers are filling the forest with sweet harmonies. Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms. Oh, get up, dear friend, my fair and beautiful lover—come to me! Come, my shy and modest dove— leave your seclusion, come out in the open. Let me see your face, let me hear your voice. For your voice is soothing and your face is ravishing.
Song of Songs 1:5-6, 2:10-14
Recently my parents sent me a box. It contained momentous that they or I had kept. These momentous spoke of the things I had held on to of the last 25 years. It is interesting to explore the things that once defined you, the things that you once held dear.
I spent a day unpacking this box, pulling out the carefully wrapped items. An old tarnished brass bell that my grandfather once owned that used to adorn the wall of my teenage bedroom. My high school letterman jacket that is still brand new. I never wore it to school or since. A tin of love letters and pen pals, that might have been love letters if I could have had the courage to articulate it as such. My senior yearbook and an old photo album.
I spent the day carefully glancing at the handwritten notes throughout the yearbook struggling to remember the faces that went with these words. These words of kindness. These words of encouragement. The world, our lives, were a wide open plain set before us to explore.
The youth in our voices only matched by the youth in our faces. The brightness in our eyes illuminated our hope. As the past has a way of doing, my time paused and reflection delivered me to yesterday. The condition of my life with its stinging morsels of love. Its delicious conviction of mind and moral fortitude. The utter neglect heaped upon a body that worked like a dream and the inability to know what kind of gift we were really living with.
The photographs affirmed my thoughts. The smoothness of our skin. The absence of extravagant curves. The ease in which smiles appeared upon our faces. The delight that inhabited my heart in that moment pointed to the thin places present around us all as we ponder yesterday. As we ponder what our bodies once were.
We were in those moments unaware of the power and majesty we possessed. Our bodies and minds eluded the peace and strength we pretended to have. Uncertain about who or what we really were. The softness of soul coupled with the hardness of cultural separation. Body image was a common theme we all sought to ignore.
Comparing ourselves to others. Measuring up the best of others to the worst of our own. Bombarded with what we needed to be beautiful, thin, popular, or loved. It was never enough. The confidence and hope that once filled our faces was replaced with dysfunction and secrets.
Like the popular zombie tale our once vibrant and healthy bodies were replaced by the mindless, flesh hungry slow waltz of creepers, walkers, and garden-variety zombies. Obsessed with staying young. Youth is a high desired commodity. Ignoring the natural process ones body descends.
In her article titled, “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young” Mary Schmich offers us a series of folky, wise tidbits of advice. Such as,
“Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”
“Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.”
I read these 17 years later and realize the truth and value in her words. It’s like finally getting the punchline from those jokes your uncles used to tell each other. There is a power and beauty to our youth. Our bodies are amazing. They are indeed the greatest instruments we will ever own. We do not realize how beautiful and amazing we are. It is God whispering in our ears, “You are more beautiful than you imagine. You are made in my image. You are beautiful. You have my eyes. My lips. My heart. You have my love”
Earlier this year Dove got together a group of people together and a police sketch artist. The artist first meet with folks and asked them to describe themselves. The artist drew what they described.
As everyone waited to meet with the artist they hung out with each other. They got to know each other, laughed, shared stories of themselves, and built relationships. Then the police artist met with the other people and asked them to describe their newly acquainted friends.
They described the power in their stories. They described the beauty in their eyes, their lips, their smiles, and their face. The artist sketched what they shared. Then the individuals that were sketched were brought to look at the two sketches side-by-side. Tears flowed as they all realized that they were not what they thought they were. Beauty leapt from the sketch others described of them and beauty hidden in the sketches that they themselves described. They were more beautiful than they imagined.
The PC(USA)’s Brief Statement of Faith says, “In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community. But we rebel against God; we hide from our Creator. Ignoring God’s commandments, we violate the image of God in others and ourselves, accept lies as truth, exploit neighbor and nature, and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care. …In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”
Being beautiful is a reflection of who we are. It is our fearfully and wonderfully made inheritance as children of God. The Song of Songs offers us a portrait love. A celebration of the body. We read Song of Songs and explore the passion, image, identity, expression, wholeness, and beauty of our bodies. These mortal coils are more than reflections of dominate culture bound in violated images of God. Our bodies are the liberated reminders that we have the courage to unmask the idols of culture and faith and live in to the sacred call of Christ to love and be peace.