The UPS man just dropped off something I ordered with reluctance and gloom. It’s stuff called “Professional Anti-Aging Skin Cleaning Serum,” and it’s for my stupid old face. It comes in a little dark brown bottle, to keep the light from getting in.
There’s nothing wrong with taking care of your skin, of course; and there’s nothing wrong with feeling a little low when the mirror tells you that you are, indeed, aging. These attacks of gloom happen to most of us, and it’s all right to try and fight back.
It’s all right to get old, too. It’s all right to show the world your naked face, aged and dingy as it is, and just to let people look at you as you are. If the 21st century can learn to forgive a woman for hitting age 40, then the 21st century gets a gold star from me. The whole “I yam what I yam” movement has made my morning routine so much simpler.
And if I still do feel the urge to be attractive, I just think of poor, suffering Marya Bolkonskaya with the heavy tread, who was plain and dull when she thought about herself, but transfigured, radiant, when she thought of other people. Other people, imagine that!
Still, some days, it’s just me and the mirror, me looking at me, and me looking back, and neither one of us is well pleased.
Well, today is the feast of the wonderful Saint Clare, who faced down the Saracens — or, rather, she let Jesus face them down while she prayed before Him.
The mercenary hordes were trying to breach the convent walls where she was abbess, so she had the Blessed Sacrament carried out to the gate where the enemy could see it. As she prayed, the enemy was seized with a nameless dread. They panicked and ran away.
Why? I suppose because He looked at them, and they didn’t want Him to see them. It was intolerable, too beautiful, too threatening. As they were, what they were — rapists, thieves, murderers for hire — as they were, they could not let Him look at them, and so they fled.
We know what happens when The Almighty looks upon you in your lowliness. Moses had to wear a veil over his face after he encountered God, because the Israelites couldn’t bear that radiance. And that was radiance once removed: it was to protect them from seeing the face of someone who had seen God. What if they tried to look at God Himself?
What if they let God look at them? Intolerable.
So God did veil Himself. He did cover His unbearably radiant face so we could bear it, taking on a human body — and even further, taking on the appearances of bread and wine, so that we could bear to look at Him, and we could bear (sometimes) to let Him look at us.
Even in this form, doubly veiled as a consecrated Host, the mere sight of Him mounted on the gates of St. Clare’s convent was terrifying. Blinding. Too much to bear.
And when the attack is over and the enemy has been driven away, we are left to ask ourselves what happened. Who are we, that we are worth protecting? What does God see, when He looks at us?
I do want to be transfigured. I do want to be clean. I want to be brightened — not just in my dingy old pores, but deeper down, deeper than that. “I yam what I yam,” I bleat to the Almighty. “What will you do with me?”
“Don’t think about that,” He says. “Look at Me. I am.”