“I will believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.”
I recently suggested to the congregation I serve as minister that they might want to try praying naked in front of a full-length mirror. Their response was, not surprisingly, slightly hysterical laughter. I didn’t make up the idea but got it from the priest and writer, Barbara Brown Taylor. She recommends that from time to time we take off our clothes, look at ourselves in the mirror, and tell ourselves with as much tenderness as we can, “Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.”
To face ourselves naked in the mirror with some measure of gentleness, much less reverence, is a hard assignment, I know. Many of us learned early on that we are either too much or not enough. Many of us grow up believing that essential parts of us are unacceptable—the way we look or feel or talk or love or learn—and we never seem to fully unlearn that shame. It is deeply spiritual work to put down our self-loathing, to set it aside, even for a few moments. It is deeply spiritual work to learn to treat ourselves with compassion; to learn to see ourselves, if only in moments, the same way we look at something or someone we find beautiful: a newborn baby, the ocean, a sunset.
A couple of years ago I started wearing a pin on my coat that says “You are beautiful.” It is small and most people don’t notice it or say anything if they do. Not long ago, in Dunkin' Donuts (a place where I spend a lot of time and where a lot of life happens), I got up to the counter to order my coffee and realized the woman behind the counter was staring at the button on my coat. I also noticed the woman had small, raised, red birthmarks all over her face. For a moment that felt like a long time, we were both completely still. I watched her as she took in the words. You are beautiful. Then she raised her eyes to mine and said very quietly, “I like that.”
“I’m glad,” I said, also very quietly, and we moved on to coffee.
Let us give thanks for tender flesh, for heart beat and breath and bone. Let us give thanks for these bodies-like-no-others which our lives have shaped, each one beautiful, each one whole, each one holy.