(This is the second half of a sermon I began in the previous post. Do read the first half first…)
The word miracle comes to us from Latin, through Anglo-French and into Middle English. The Late Latin word is miraculum from its earlier root mirari, to wonder.
Beauty, then, is that which brings us to wonder and awe at something outside ourselves or even in our very own selves.
By way of encouraging this wonder, I offer you a spiritual practice.
Ths practice many of us may find difficult. Rev. Theresa Soto, well-known for their work in disability and anti-racist activism in our tradition, enrolled in a seminary class about taking and looking anew at pictures of oneself—“beloved selfies,” I call them now—to find the beauty there.
This practice leads to something wonderful, even something awe-inspiring. There may be something you don’t like to see in yourself in photos. There may be something that stands out to you, a too-bigness or too-smallness, an asymmetry, a color, a splotchy patch, an eye that does not look straight on. Something you see every time you see a photo of yourself.
There is no camera, no photograph in the world that will make me thin, leaving aside outrageous, violent, and probably impossible Photoshopping.
There is no point in my looking at photos and turning away in disgust because I am fat, because my neck is big, or because my lips are asymmetrical. There is just no point.
One, because each of these things are true. They just are. And also because those like the Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy remind us that we can fall in love with one another, with ourselves, even, in this present moment.
And maybe even more significant, it has become important for me to consider what is beautiful in myself because people love me. Because to be beloved upon the Earth, as each one of us absolutely is, is one of the great purposes of human life. Because there is more to me–more to you–than the flaws the culture has taught us to obsess about.
So what else is in the photo of me, or of you, or of anyone you look at? Is there radiance, joy, solemnity? Is there lightness in your smile, or serenity in your eyes? Is there movement, or an intriguing way the light and shadow catch on your skin?
Where is the beauty in you, beauty you have been trained not to see?
Where are you a manifestation, a very embodiment of our First Source, the core, origin and circumference, of religious experience? What about you inspires awe and wonder? What can you find?
It’s not only about seeing, of course. Some of us do not see, or we have trouble seeing. I invite all of us to expand our notions of beauty beyond just the visible, but into the tactile—what are the glorious sensations touching our own skin can give us? Can we love singing, whatever we have taught about how we sound or what we contribute? What does the audible tell us—how do we modulate our voices? What does our laugh bring out in others? What love and awe does cooking for others bring to us?
There are so many ways we are beautiful, friends. So many ways.
I have reclaimed some of the ideas of beauty by rejecting the degendering I experienced earlier in my life, when it was made clear I could never be a real woman, never be attractive, etc. One way I have done this is by expressing myself as a femme, a queer woman who loves makeup, grace, poise, radiance, and yes, even glitter.
Another way has been to take back the image of the whale, the great cetacean, the biggest creatures ever known to have lived on Earth, who even now swim so deeply that at times we cannot track blue whales throughout their migratory journeys. I even intend, in fact, to get a tattoo around my arm of the singing whale, the humpback, with its long fins and beautiful voice.
I claim the beauty, strength, and sexuality of the cetacean. Not only the sleek loveliness of the bottlenose porpoise, but also the hugeness and mystery of the blue whale, and most especially the musicality of the humpback.
Finally, I have realized that if I were thin, I would be someone else. Amor fati, the love of fate, the acceptance of reality and its blessings, has gotten me through many traumas, including those surrounding my body’s shape and size. I am sitting here, preaching with you, in part because of the way fat-phobia has shaped my spirit, heart, and body. This is not to say that the terror of fat and fat people is okay, merely that I know myself loved, loved with all of who I am, and so I can love others, and try shine some light where things might otherwise be obscured.
I have found these approaches allow me to wonder at myself. Not just to see myself as shameful, something failed, something not worthy of representation or desire. They have allowed me to come to you with glitter in my hair and makeup on my face, in a dress I love, with a stole I chose for today’s occasion.
These ways of being and expression bring me a sense of possibility, of wonder, and of radiance; they can even bring wonder and awe to others, and so they are—we all are—miracles. Those things that must be wondered at.
What might you do to claim or reclaim your wonder?
How might you reclaim your sense of your own beauty? Could you make the practice of a beloved selfie part of your life? Could you go through photos and look for the loveliness, grace, goofiness, or serenity there?
Let us indeed wonder at others and ourselves. Let us be mindful of the miracles around us every minute. Every minute, even now, even here, even among one another as we worship together.