I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard’s sprawling, profound book on The Sermon on the Mount. I just came across these paragraphs:
Interestingly, “growing up” is largely a matter of learning to hide our spirit behind our face, eyes, and language so that we can evade and manage others to achieve what we want and avoid what we fear. By contrast, the child’s face is a constant epiphany because it doesn’t yet know how to do this. It cannot manage its face. This is also true of adults in moments of great feeling—which is one reason why feeling is both greatly treasured and greatly feared.
Those who have attained considerable spiritual stature are frequently noted for their “childlikeness.” What this really means is that they do not use their face and body to hide their spiritual reality. In their body they are genuinely present to those around them. That is a great spiritual attainment or gift. (p. 76)
Isn’t that cool? It made me think about the “constant epiphanies” of my children’s faces, especially when they were babies. When my daughter was about four months old, I wrote this:
Today the gas man came to change our meter
He got distracted by the baby
He coo-chi-cooed and peek-a-booed . . .
He was transfixed
Awash in her light.
He said, lingering at the door
That’s the nicest thing that’s happened to me all week.
(Relatives, friends, strangers)
Will do anything to make her smile
And when she does
Their own countenances change . . .
They are softened
She does not smile out of obligation
She has not yet learned to wear a mask
She doesn’t know what pretense is.
She smiles because she wants to
And that is her power.
There is something in the Bible
About unveiled faces
And how they reflect
The glory of God.
I believe it
I’ve seen it
In the unveiled smile of my baby
And, if only for a moment,
In the light of the face of whoever’s smiling back.
My smiling daughter is six-years-old now. When she wants me to rewind a video, she asks me to “back-forward” it. (I guess she learned “fast forward” first and did the math from there.) When I think about what she’s taught me about “unveiled faces”, I find myself “back-forwarding” all the way to Genesis. Genesis 1:27 tells us we were made in God’s image; The Message translation declares we were created “reflecting God’s nature.” It would seem God intended us to reflect His nature with unveiled, childlike faces.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking. Although new life in Christ involves a death to self, it's a death (the death) that gives life—only in Jesus do we discover our true selves. It’s when we know we are loved and forgiven, created in the image of God, that we can relax into our own unique personalities. We still struggle against the sin-grain, of course, but now, instead of dressing up our weakness and sin we can just go lay it down at the cross. No mask is required. We can stop worrying about ourselves and just be ourselves.
Sometimes I imagine taking the mirror I normally look into (fussing, worrying, covering, adjusting), yanking it off the wall, and holding it high above my head, symbolically using it to reflect God to the world. If I could really do that, it wouldn’t matter what I looked like, only that I reflected Him. If I could really live that way, unselfconscious, focused on Him. I could back-forward all the way to who He created me to be. Unguarded, unveiled. Like my kids, when they were little.
I wish I could have seen the grins of the little children who got close to Jesus, the ones He took into His arms and blessed. (“Be like them,” Jesus told the grown-ups, in Mark 10:13-16.) Did the kids know who was holding them? Did their hearts explode with the joy of it? Was it written all over their faces?
(Dallas Willard quote is from The Divine Conspiracy, © 1997 by Dallas Willards, published by HarperSanFrancisco, and Carolyn Arends’ poem is from We’ve Been Waiting For You © 2002 by Carolyn Arends, published by J. Countryman, a division of Thomas Nelson)
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