One of Chris Bohjalian’s characters in Midwives dressed two-clicks above. You can wear wrinkled slacks and smell like used cigarettes if you want, but I’m showing up in heels, my blond highlights blowing past you in the dust. Being beautiful is the closest thing we know to power. And in this world, power is life. So yeah, I get it. I understood the urge to hide what’s inside and cover it all up with a jacket. Our insides are dark and insecure, and the meek don’t live long in this bitter place. You can say all day that beauty is skin deep and only comes from the inside, but when you want a job on 11th Avenue, you shed that fallacy and get with the program. Bust out the Bergdorf suit. The black one that makes you look slim and intimidates the competition. Because you only have one shot and one first impression. Wear quelques fleurs. Buy Burberry. Make it count.
So it makes total sense that Jim Caviezel got the part of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. He’s stunning, really. Just peer into those brown eyes and neatly-trimmed beard and tell me you wouldn’t want to listen to that man talk just to see his mouth move. Who wouldn’t want to see Jesus with straight teeth and soft skin and strong biceps? It makes us cry quicker and weep more deeply and feel more connected with a man who is attractive. It’s more tragic to see Marilyn Monroe die than some prostitute from the Fifth Ward. Because Marilyn was beautiful, which to us means she was more worthy.
And yet Jesus was not beautiful. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Isaiah 53:2
I thought of the Sermon on the Mount, where the poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of Heaven and the meek prevail. Where we should be less attuned to beauty and its false sense of security. Jesus turned the whole world on its head, and suddenly all we ever saw as value just fades like blood from a cut that bleeds in a bathtub with a champagne glass and a handful of pills. What a waste of a beautiful life.
And I stop in my tracks, with my expensive blond hair and a diamond burning a hole in my finger. I rip the pearls from my neck and they spray around the living room like popcorn in a movie theatre, dirty and scattered. I stand with my head thrown back and scream at darkness, this dying and rotting skin holding up my broken heart. Beauty can’t be trusted. We gravitate like animals to what we believe will breed more cleanly, and will produce a more perfect fruit. Yet as we click toward this devil, who lures us so strongly in the name of self-preservation, Jesus stands.
He looks at all that caged-in ugly, and we are suddenly free. And I am filled with awe. Because I have never before been faced with such raw power. Something that grips my insides and holds still my heart and quiets my rage. A power to raise the dead and clean wounds and move mountains. I’m not worthy, as all this darkness pours out at his feet, from my blond roots to my trembling fingers to the buttons on my Bergdorf suit, and there surrounded in pearls on the floor I lay all my shit bare.
I just lay it all out bare at his feet and weep.
We should all strive for “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4. Past the skin and the suit and the jacket of insecurity, there is great peace. I want that peace to penetrate through these blue damaged eyes, two-clicks above this world, walking tall. As it turns out, beauty is not power. But God’s power is so exceedingly beautiful.