The desire to be beautiful seems to be common to mankind, but the very atmosphere of this age is toxic with something that feeds a disease, making us obsessed with our image. One part of the toxic mix is the overwhelming abundance of pictures of faces and bodies in magazines and on every electronic device, forming a kind of lesson plan on How to Look. I was happy for a respite this morning when I read St. Nikolai’s homily for the day in The Prologue of Ohrid.
on the beauty of Christ above all other beauty
Holy Scripture does not ascribe any particular value to physical beauty, and in general to anything transient. That is why everyone who reads Holy Scripture should take care to be sufficiently attentive and wise to transfer the praise of physical beauty to the soul and to spiritual values. Without a doubt, spiritual beauty gives a wondrous attractiveness to the most unattractive body, just as an ugly soul makes even the most attractive body repulsive. The Prophet David, pouring forth good words (Psalm 45:1), says to his King, the Lord Jesus Christ: Thou art fairer than the sons of men.
The Lord Himself created His bodily cloak as He wanted. Had He wanted to appear in the world as the physically fairest of men, He could have done so. But there is nothing in the Gospel to indicate that He drew followers to Himself or influenced men by His appearance. He Himself said: the flesh profiteth nothing (John 6:63). Therefore, it is clear that David was not speaking of the physical beauty of Christ, but of His spiritual, divine beauty. This is clearly seen in the following words of the Psalmist: Grace is poured forth upon thy lips (Psalm 45:2). So it is that the unsurpassed beauty of the Son of God is not in the form and shape of His lips, but rather in the stream of grace that flows from His mouth.
Again, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of Christ: He had no form or comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2-3). Do Isaiah and David agree? Perfectly well. David speaks of Christ’s inward beauty, and Isaiah speaks of Christ’s external abasement. Isaiah said that He would not be seen as a king or a rich man, but as a servant and sufferer.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou art fairer to us than all men and angels: glory to Thine immortal and unending beauty. O gracious Lord, correct the ugliness of our souls, which are disfigured by sin, we pray Thee.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.
From the archives
We arrived in California and settled in our lodging (together) in Mammoth Lakes, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The next morning was pretty cold, requiring several layers of clothing as we set off for a hike in the Little Lakes Basin, along Rock Creek and to Marsh Lake. The trailhead was already over 10,000 ft in elevation, which meant that we were enjoying a very high mountain experience with minimal effort.
There was ice in several places along Rock Creek, which just made for more fun for Jamie. Three of us reveled in expansive or micro views in our camera viewfinders, and the youngest ones scampered like goats up and down boulders and cliffs.
On the western side of the Sierras, you start from the Central Valley, nearly at sea level, and have to climb through foothills and lower ranges before you get to the high elevations. But on the east side, the valley is already at 4,000 feet elevation, and from there the mountains rise up immediately, and startle you.
Above, you can see three species of cinquefoil that Pippin and I encountered all along the trail. In this spot they were all in close proximity to one another, though one is ihard to see back there n the shade. They are Slender Cinquefoil, Sticky Cinquefoil, and Shrubby Cinquefoil, not necessarily in that order. I actually gave up on keeping them straight.
This weathered Whitebark Pine got my attention; the Professor identified it for me:
We had arrived in town just before a snowstorm, we could see it coming on our phones’ weather app, and anticipated having to stay mostly indoors the next morning at least, because we have no snow gear with us.
And that’s how it turned out. While the snow was falling thickly for a few hours, we ate rice pudding for breakfast, built a fire in the woodstove (fires hadn’t been allowed in the campgrounds) and read or did creative projects. I tried sketching one of the images from the day before, in a tiny notebook I had brought, using Jamie’s and Ivy’s colored pencils. Both Jamie and Ivy got into writing stories, picking out the words on my laptop, their first time at a keyboard.
Then the snow stopped, and after lunch we drove to Hot Creek to ramble and explore. This is a place in the lower part of Mammoth Creek where the water spurts from hot springs under the surface of the creek, and its name is changed. We all found so much to look at, and Scout fished.
Lots of types of lichens grow on the “moonscape” rocks. Two of my favorites were growing together in this group captured by Pippin:
I was pleased to discover many bushes of ephedra or Mormon Tea growing near the creek.
We dipped our fingers in the water in several places, and were surprised that tiny fish were swimming in it, it was so like bath water. In many places along the bank just above you could put your hand in a hole or crack and feel the warm and humid air. The smell of sulfur was strong in places, too.
Ivy had an encounter with nettles. She said with great feeling, “I thought it was lemon balm but it was a baby nettle!” Her mother managed to find some purslane leaves which she reluctantly chewed, and put the poultice on her skin. Either the poultice worked, or the taste of it distracted her; in any case, she was not frowning for long.
When we walked back up out of the creek channel, there the mountains stood, like gods.
Considering these mountains, and all the wonders that have surrounded me in the last week, Isabella Bird well expresses my feeling:
“I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh.”
“If anyone happened to be near the fountain which Scripture says rose from the earth at the beginning of Creation and was large enough to water the earth’s surface, he would approach it marveling at the endless stream of water gushing forth and bubbling out. Never could he say that he had seen all the water…. In the same way, the person looking at the divine, invisible beauty will always discover it anew since he will see it as something newer and more wondrous in comparison to what he had already comprehended.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs