This past Sunday I attended worship at a Quaker meeting. Quakers, who believe that the divine light is inside each of us and can be accessed by each of us without need of a mediator, usually don’t have a structured worship service, nor a clergy person who delivers a sermon. Instead, the community gathers and settles into a prolonged period of silence, and then, out of that silence, anyone who feels prompted by the Spirit will rise and speak what is on their heart.
Although it was a chilly morning outside, the meeting house was warm and made warmer by the crackling fire that was lit in the fireplace as worship began.
After a prolonged period of deep silence a few people began to rise and speak, and one of them delivered a message that moved me to tears.
She described how, when her son was three years old, they had a bedtime routine that included her reminding him, just as he was preparing to go to bed, to look for the beauty inside himself.
One night, unexpectedly, he changed the routine. Wide-eyed, he pressed his forehead against hers and reported the beauty he saw in her. “It’s like diamonds, mama!”
I was overcome by the beauty of the whole scenario: by the beauty of such wise parenting that trains a child to see his inner beauty — and consequently nurtures his capacity to see beauty in others — and by the thought of what the world would be like if each of us had been taught to look for the beauty within.
That’s not typically what happens. Most of us have been trained to notice all the ways in which we fall short and to judge ourselves for it rather than to see and celebrate all the ways we are beautiful. Sadly, religions haven’t always been helpful in this regard. Oftentimes people have to recover from damaging religious teachings that have inculcated in them beliefs about their brokenness, their insufficiency, even their “sinful nature.”
That is an unfortunate distortion. Yes, it’s true that humans can behave in destructive ways, but I for one am often overwhelmed with the beauty of the human spirit. Every time I hear a moving piece of music, witness a generous act of compassion, participate in a side-splitting episode of laughter, or behold a sublime work of art, I am in awe of the beauty that resides within us.
This past Monday, the day after my experience in Quaker meeting, I was delighted to receive in the mail three things that exemplified for me the beauty of the human spirit. One was a copy of the book my friend Teya Sepinuck recently wrote, which will soon be released in the U.S., about her experience doing Theater of Witness. Another was the CD another acquaintance, Keisha Hutchins, recently recorded. And the third was a brochure about the upcoming exhibit of the work of a painter friend, Christine Lafuente.
It was striking to me that all three of these things should arrive in my mailbox on the same day, underscoring the teaching that emerged in the worship service the previous day, that there is beauty inside each of us that wants to be seen.
For some, that inner beauty may be expressed through works of art. For others it may come out in other ways, like kindness, playfulness, and generosity.
This week, inspired by the example of that mother and her son, I’m feeling drawn to appreciating inner beauty, mine and that of others. So I began by asking myself, When I look inside, what is the inner beauty I see?
In my case, the image that came wasn’t of diamonds. It was of a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers.
How about you? When you look for the beauty inside yourself, what do you see?
My prayer is that you will be able to embrace that beauty and celebrate it, knowing that by doing so you are inviting forth the beauty in others and helping make the world a more peaceful — and beautiful — place.