May 10, 2012

His distressing disguise

I'm reading this lovely book about spiritual direction.  The author is a wise, experienced woman, Episcopal priest/teacher/midwife, and she uses language that would be quaint were it not so accurate.  My favorite of her expressions is the way that she talks about shabbiness.

"Shabby" is my grandmother's word, but it is so well-suited to what it intends to denote that I cannot think of another word in the vastness of English that quite matches it.  It's not just about something's being worn or old or decrepit.  There's a sense in which, when I'm shabby, I don't see it or can't help it.  That's often me.

It's me in my pettiness.  It's me in my laziness.  It's me in the thousand little things that I leave unsaid and undone, because I have to check my e-mail one more time.  But it's worse than that too.

I'm like the caricature of the aging starlet.  Too much rouge.  Too-false eyelashes.  Faded gown.  Drooping, drawling, dreaming.  Looking in the mirror and seeing youth and fame and beauty while projecting to the world something that looks cheap and tawdry.  Shabby.

I feel safe in some ivory tower of rightness, and I look down.  If I'm strong up there, you're weak down below.  If I'm right, you must be wrong.  If I'm put together, you're falling apart.

To keep me on my perch, I find ways to identify with other people on perches.  Sometimes I lift them up and steady them on my own pedestals -- where they'd better perform according to my expectations -- if they don't want to get knocked off.  They can stay as long as they help me preserve the illusion that I am somebody.

When I'm intent on preserving my Somebodyness I am wary of the "nobodies."  They don't get it.  Where's the make-up?  The glamour?  The show?  They are exposed, with all their brokenness hanging out.  Dirty.  Toothless.  Poor.  Or...  Divorced.  Atheist.  Republican.  Fat.  Whatever.  So long as I can feel superior.


Not them.  Me.

Mother Teresa said with perfect clarity, "Everyone is Jesus in a distressing disguise."  I think about that.  When I feel that feeling well up, the feeling that says he or she or you are somehow not good enough for me, I think, "There's Jesus in his distressing disguise."  It does distress me, and I have to pause and recognize what's hiding underneath.  And not only underneath your distressing disguise.  Underneath my shabbiness.

What's true is that the faded gown and the fake jewels and the cheap dreams I'm still holding onto hide the real beauty that is underneath.  When I scrub off the rouge, what's underneath is ravaged and broken.  And beautiful.  And free.

I want to believe that even underneath my shabbiness, Jesus sees himself, in disguise.

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