Saturday, June 18, 2011

Integrity, Shape & Radiance

I'm not one of those girls who obsesses over make-up and fingernail polish. I've never even had a pedicure or manicure in my life. But I decided it's time to have some good ol' girl talk on here.

Let's consider how much time we women spend in a day or in a week beautifying ourselves...and I mean washing our hair, styling our hair, deciding what to wear, trimming our nails, putting on make-up, checking ourselves in the mirror - and those are just the basics! And then consider this: how much time did you spend today or in the past week working on your inner beauty? By this I mean: a kind heart, listening, loving, affirming others, etc.
Compare the two. How do the hours measure up? If you are like me, this will put things into a new perspective! So what can we do to foster more inner beauty? The kind that shines through our eyes and radiates from our heart into the deeds we do?

A beauty consultant once told me at a workshop that the elements of beauty are: integrity, shape and radiance. These are the keys to looking great.

But on a spiritual level, what does it look like to be a beautiful woman of God? If virtues were lipstick, mascara, jewelry and flowers, how would we be adorned?

Last week, I gave a talk about “Mary: the Warrior Princess” to a group of women, and I challenged them next time they glance at themselves in the mirror to do a Marian Makeover. Mary was the Mother of God. Her perfect obedience and purity of heart and body made her the most beautiful woman that ever lived. She was a woman of integrity, because she was fully integrated in who she was as Theotokos, the God-bearer. She carried God within her and she was the first Christian, the first to carry Him to others. Mary was "in shape," because she had all her priorities in order and was well-endowed in virtue. Mary was radiant with joy, peace and love, because she was full of God's grace. She was filled with love for her God that spilled over onto all of God's creation.
As we stare into the mirror today, and this week, let's call to mind what we need to "put on" to become more beautiful women from the inside out. Let's strive to mirror Mary in her 10 virtues and through our feminine genius spread the beauty of God...

Tips for a Marian Make-Over
1. SOAP & WATER....Total Mortification
Today I will die to selfish desires and sin so that Christ can live fully in me. I accept and take up my daily cross with joy.
2. HAIR.... Continual Mental Prayer
Raise my mind to heaven today. Remember how Mary was always conversing with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
3. EYEBROWS & WRINKLES.... Divine Wisdom
God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways His ways (Is. 55:8-9). Let God surprise you today as you see His greater design in everything.
4. EYES.... Profound Humility
True humility is seeing things the way they really are. Today I will look at myself and others as God does, seeing nothing more and nothing less.
5. LIPS.... Surpassing Purity
Purity is freedom from anything that debases or pollutes. May holiness permeate my mind, my heart, and the words of my mouth today.
6. YOU SMELL GOOD!.... Angelic Sweetness
To be angelic is to reflect the face of God. Sweetness is fresh and new, kind and attractive. “We are the aroma of Christ for God” (2 Cor. 2:15).
7. SMILE.... Ardent Charity
Glowing love – love infused with the Spirit of God. Mary’s works of service came from a heart glowing with love for God.
8. WHAT TO WEAR.... Heroic Patience
Endure with courage whatever frustrations and trials come my way.
9. HANDS.... Lively Faith
Faith is a gift as well as an act of ours. Mary lived her faith by serving others.
10. BEAUTIFUL FEET.... Blind Obedience
Like a child holding her father’s hand, I entrust myself to God’s Will. I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to His word.

"Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God." (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

"Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (Prov. 31:30).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Southern Experience

1: Entering the land
After a 10-hour drive south to Westmoreland, Tennessee, accompanied by six other young adults, an engineer, a lumber man and a Catholic priest, we arrived in good form, ready for whatever was to come on our mission. I had no idea what to expect, never having been on a mission trip before and never having been in the South. Every bend seemed a mystery and every mountain full of expectation. It would be necessary that I trade a spirit of fear for a spirit of poverty, as a mouse scampered through the kitchen lodge where I washed dishes and after meeting bugs and spiders five times the size they are in Wisconsin, I prayed they weren’t in our room – or worse, in our bunk beds! Traveling teaches you poverty, I realized. It unbinds you from pre-conceived notions about how things should be and growing too familiar in your ways. Stripped of extras in my life, I began seeing my soul in greater clarity. Just as I left behind the more frivolous material goods in my life, so I found myself letting go of worries and cares and comforts of every day, home life in order to embrace something new and be enriched by it. I felt, on the first traveling day, the loss of things left behind and a bit of in trepidation as I faced the unknown.
2: Of Guns and Stories
The woods in Tennessee are dense. Lush green brush grows up around the feet of the trees so that you cannot see the way through them. I wonder what is lurking behind the trees, over the hills and around the bends in the road. What was this country like when Indians quietly stole through these woods and surprised pilgrims, their curious and fearful eyes peering at them, and when the sound of war whoops pierced the silence and violence prevailed? I can't help but imagine it, as I read The Last of the Mohicans by Cooper. 

I think of Flannery O’Connor, that southern woman writer, who wrote about the prejudices prevailing in the South, and through “large and startling figures” illumined how grace moves and works in our lives, sometimes in violent ways.
I wonder if my friend’s words about so much weaponry in the South might be true: “You might enjoy the South, where even girls like guns.” In fact, there is a gun shop just down the road from our camp. Flannery’s descriptions of the South are starting to make sense…or am I just fantasizing?

3: God’s Work
The sounds of hundreds of cicadas screaming in the trees overhead while we work crescendos and then fades, crescendos, then fades. We are kept company by chickens in the yard, which Betty pointed out, control the tick population. Also strolling around the property are three dogs, a few ducks, and a rooster that crows at intervals, every time the sun shines, announcing it as though his whole existence depended on it and the world had deaf ears. Flannery would have enjoyed this rooster and, perhaps, typified it as some sort of rejected preacher in this Christ-haunted South, still crowing out judgments. “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times,” said our Lord to Peter.
Doug tells us about a black minister who lived in a little cabin in these woods and used to preach to the trees. He walked us to the cabin that has fallen apart, a wreck now in the woods, sitting there rotting away.

“This shed, this porch that we are now building up will one day be in ruins in just the same way. But what will last, what will endure, is the love with which we build it,” said Father Nathan, when we gathered for prayer at the end of the evening.

“Unless the Lord build the house, in vain do its laborers toil. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. It is vain for you to rise early and go to bed late, to eat bread earned by hard toil – all this God gives to his beloved while they slumber” (Ps. 127).

I’m learning how to saw 2x4s, build a wall, hammer nails, work with my hands and be useful, as well as how to take time out to listen and make conversation with Doug and Betty, who are benefiting from our mission work.

Waiting…each day we wait for instruction, wait for each other’s assistance, wait because of the rain or wait with Doug and Betty. As the days pass, I struggle to slow down, as I realize how fast-working and industrious we northerners are. Slowing down was hard. Sitting in conversation was hard when I knew the many tasks we had to complete. Yet, all of us agreed by the end of the mission that the projects we had finished had been God’s work. He was in charge and accomplished in us the work He wanted done in His name. What was left incomplete was for the next missionaries.

I left feeling much like the unfinished shed and rough on the edges. God was building each one of us into His house and He wasn’t finished with me yet. This experience was one of the ways I was being built up and more would come.

4: Mountain music
Doug, a bluegrass and gospel musician who’d played with Johnny Cash and other notorious musicians in his lifetime, played for us on his mandolin, fiddle and guitar. He shared with us some of his recorded music and lots of stories, funny and sad, told in his low drawl.
His wife Betty had been through hard times, too. She told me, “It was by the grace of God” that she’d survived the cruel neglect and homelessness of her childhood years and a dysfunctional family to become the loving woman she is today. Talking about enmity in the family, Betty said, “When you let that hatred in, it just gives the devil more power, and he don’t need no more power!”
Betty could say this because she recognized and confronted the evil that plagued her life. She responded by seeking God’s grace. The action of grace in a person’s life is the theme of all Flannery O'Connor's stories: the acceptance or rejection of God’s grace by each character.

Betty is a red-head like me, sweet and loving, with a heart for helping others. I reminded her of an old friend she knew when she worked in a nursing home. I just hope that I can be as humble and enduring as she, of whom songwriter Harry Chapin might have wrote, “It’s what’s inside a woman when she’s up against the land.”

5: My cup runneth over
This picture brings it all back: quiet nights spent in leisure on rocking chairs and porch swings, visiting and talking, with the sound of frogs, honking, from the pond.

The South is different. They are influenced by the land just as we in the north are shaped by the seasons. We only have a few summer months, and we must work hard in the summer and survive the winters. In the South, they must conserve their energy, moving slower so they are not worn out by the long, hot days. The land really does affect an individual, and I bring home with me the lesson to slow down and savor the moments that truly matter, moments with each other.