Category Archives: Beauty

Beauty / Feminism / Joy / Womanhood

Mama Mary and the Hope of the Resurrection

August 15, 2017

Today is one of my favorite solemnities celebrated in the Catholic Church—the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a gift that we get to celebrate the assumption of Our Lady—soul and body—into Heaven!

The word “hope” has been resounding on my heart these last few days. I’ve been reflecting how alive I feel and fully myself when I am able to live in hope?

I almost imagine Hope as the literal mantle wrapped around Our Lady. In and through her maternal intercession, she gives me the gift of hope whereby I can trust in the Father’s promises.

Whereby I can hope.

Her mantle is my protection against the lies and distractions of the enemy.

In the first reading at Mass, we hear of the Woman crowned with stars in the Book of Revelation. I can’t help but also think of how this same woman was promised to us in Genesis 3:15—the protoevangelium, or “first Gospel.” Speaking to the serpent after the Fall, God the Father says:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This is why most often we see statues of Our Lady with her standing upon and crushing the head of the serpent.

Mary is the woman—the woman so full of grace because God chose to dwell within her.  …the woman who participates in God’s eternal plan of salvation.

The most amazing part of all of this is that in and through the gift of our Baptism, He chooses also to dwell within us—in and through our very bodies.

…but He doesn’t stop there.

Today’s feast recognizes the great hope we have in the Resurrection.

Our being human means that we have both a body and a soul. Unlike the Cartesian dualism so many are accustomed to, we see both our bodies and souls as important gifts—as part of who we are. Only when integrated and whole, both body and soul, are we ourselves—human persons created in the image and likeness of God.

Our culture has truly missed the mark in understanding the gift of the human body. While our bodies are a means by which we come to experience things, they are most importantly the tangible gifts that allow us to express who we are.

I often share with my students that our bodies are the only tangible, material thing we have with us from conception till death. Everything else passes away. In fact, the philosophical definition of “death” really is the separation of one’s body and soul.

Today we remember that our hope is in Christ who gave Himself even unto death so that we might have life–in abundance and for eternity. His rising is a promise to us of what He has destined for us.

I love to think of Our Lady as she who “found her beloved and would not let Him go.” Not only did Our Lady conceive of the Son of God within her very body, but she also received His Spirit again at Pentecost. This fullness—this guarantee of abundance where our hearts burn from within us—is our destiny. We have a good good Father, and He will not leave us orphans.

Before the Fall, man and woman existed with God in a state called “Original Justice.” There, we, too, were full of grace and so intimately united with God. In and through our mutual disobedience, we fell from this state of perfect harmony with God. As a result of the disharmony with God, we also experienced disharmony with ourselves, with others, and with all of Creation—all of the gifts entrusted to us from the beginning. We each experience the fruits of this death, both spiritually and eventually physically.

Upon His death, Christ did not just go to sleep. He physically died so that even that dark human experience could be redeemed. After rising from the dead, He ascended into Heaven, promising to send His Spirit again to us. Our Lady, who was present in the Upper Room and praying with the Apostles as they waited, must have been full of such joy to yet again wait in hope to receive the gift of the Spirit.

…and so here we come to the beauty of the Assumption. I love to think of Grace as the glue that puts back together all of the broken pieces we have as a result of the Fall. With each little “yes,” Our Lady was choosing to receive more and more this gift of grace.

Grace is what integrates us.

Grace is what makes us whole.

Grace is what makes us new.

And so, Our Lady leads us as any good mother does—further up and further in. She reveals to us the depths to which the Father desires to go with us. He desires truly to bind up every wound and dry every tear. He desires to re-integrate our very beings, our entire beings—both body and soul as one.

Today, we celebrate the gift of our having bodies—living temples of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we celebrate the gift of hope—that we, too, will one day rise again with our very bodies.

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).

Today, we celebrate so good a mother who hoped against all hope that “the promises spoken to her by the LORD would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).

May we, too, live in the hope of His promises.

“I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10).

And, ladies, before you shame your body or condemn each supposed flaw, please remember that your body was created as a gift entrusted to you by the Father. In and through this great gift, you express who you are to the world. In and through this body, you tangibly image God to all of creation because in and through this body, you choose to love and be loved.

Contrary to the misunderstandings swirling around you, your body in its unique design glorifies the Creator.  May we each have the grace to see our bodies as the gifts that they are—not based on their size or their weight but instead on how we have offered them in sacrifices of love every day.  Whether big or small, our tangible presence to those around us–only possible in and through our very bodies–is a gift that can be life-giving…and therefore holy.

“You are all beautiful, my beloved; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Songs 4:7).

I pray that each of you might hope in those words of Truth. Our Lady’s being assumed into Heaven testifies to the depths of those words. And such words are the hope that Truth provides for us.

May we learn to live in such a way as to remember the great gift of our bodies, without condemning or obsessing. May we remember that we are daughters of a Father who has ransomed us from the effects of death. May we rejoice that we will receive the beautiful gift of our bodies back one day, for no part of us that is good will ever be squandered.

Your body is good.

Your body is beautiful.

Your body is a gift.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful” (Song of Songs 4:1a).

 

Beauty / Comparison / Emotions / Feminism / Womanhood

Edith Stein, the Emotional Life, and Comparison

August 9, 2017

 Happy Feast Day of St. Edith Stein!

“The world doesn’t need what women have; it needs what women are.”

St. Edith Stein (a.k.a. Teresa Blessed by the Cross) is one of my heroes and her words inspired me to launch this site.  Her work researching phenomenology and trying to understand the anthropology of woman remain so necessary for a truly proper understanding and appreciation of the gift and beauty of what it means to be a woman.  If you’re super interested in learning more, click here for the link to a podcast I recorded a few years back with a dear friend Erin Franco about Authentic Feminism.

I hope soon to write a post for you about the life of Edith Stein.  In honor of her feast, though, I just wanted to let you know that this blog is going to be a bit more active.  Besides writing more posts, I am inviting different women into this space to share their stories with us.  All of these women are rockstars in my book, but each uniquely lives out her feminine genius in her own way and in her own unique season of life.

One of my goals for this blog is to invite you deeper into the reality of who you are.  There is no one-size-fits-all box of expectation for any of you.

I hope simply to inspire you to be you. 

As different women share their stories, you will see the many different ways that women live out their beauty in the “everyday” and the “ordinary.”

Also in light of today’s feast, I wanted to share with you a little nugget of truth from St. Edith Stein about our emotions.  Edith wrote a lot about the richness of a woman’s emotional life.  She recognizes woman’s emotions as one of her great gifts.  Still, she reveals the strength woman can discover in the power of her emotions when she learns to order her emotions to her reason.  Sometimes we can get carried away by our emotions; experiences and circumstances can feel overwhelming.

Through both her intellectual awareness of a woman’s emotions and her personal experience of “feeling” her own emotions, Edith is inviting us to realize that our emotions are sometimes a  response to our perception of reality.

Our emotions are not always a reaction to reality itself.

After talking with multiple women these past several months about this topic, I have noticed specifically how loud the distraction of comparison can be and how it rears its ugly head in different ways for different women, especially based on one’s season of life.

Now, as a woman who is used to relying upon her understanding, it should come as no surprise that one of the theme verses of my life happens to be must be and so is Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the LORD with all of your heart, and rely not upon your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

In many of my recent conversations, I have been struck by the power that our perceptions can have over us. I, too, have fallen prey to this, and the more I become aware of it, the more I realize my need to order my perceptions to be in line with reality.

But what is reality? Specifically, what is the reality of all these women around me who are struggling to become who they’re meant to be while simultaneously striving to love who they are.

Now.

In reality.

This post might seem random (welcome to the way my mind works), but I just wanted to throw out the reminder to all those women out there who feel like they can’t measure up or are never chosen or are never seen—you are not invisible.

You are not invisible.

I remember reading a really powerful post by Blessed is She over a year ago about allowing our circumstances to name us instead of our God. I literally took out my journal as the reflection prompted and asked myself what names I was assuming as reality and living from, based solely on my circumstances…or really, my perception of my circumstances.

Then, I had to write the truth–words from Scripture–that spoke against those statements. I remember that having those words to combat the distractions of my perceptions–the lies of my perceived circumstances–were so powerful in freeing me to be present to my reality.

The words of Scripture were the only words powerful enough to free me to be me.  Amazing, right?  …but that’s actually a promise of the Father.

“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it”         (Isaiah 55:11).

One of my favorite movies (which you should all watch no matter your age) is the recent remake of “Cinderella” (2015).  At the end of the movie (spoiler alert…maybe) as Cinderella is freed from the tower imprisoning her, she walks down a set of stairs to meet the Prince and have her turn at trying on the glass slipper. On her way, she first stops and looks in a mirror, almost to remember who she is. As she gazes upon her own reflection, the narrator asks the question that so many of us ask as we stand before another, especially in front of those whom we love or whom we desire to take notice of us or love us.

“Would who she was, who she really was, be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. Perhaps that is the greatest risk that any of us can take…to be seen as we truly are.”

I don’t know about you, but to be seen as I truly am is perhaps one of the most intimidating concepts for me. I have my own stuff:  annoying habits and struggles and weaknesses just like everyone else. The thought of revealing to someone else those struggles…in reality…is a little scary.

…and yet, there truly is a time and a place for such kind of revelations. I remember sharing with my students and with different young women I’ve spoken to over the years that our struggles and traumas and hurts are our pearls, just as much as our joys and dreams. It isn’t that our pearls don’t shine or reflect the light; it’s just that such pearls are meant for eyes that can see and ears that can hear.

In my season of life, I am realizing that my struggles as a woman, especially with comparison, are not unique to me. Not only that, but also that though these struggles may change form, the crux of the struggle remains for many women.  Often its form just depends on one’s season of life.

“Am I beautiful?”…becomes “Am I as beautiful as she?”

“Am I good?”…becomes “Am I as good as she?”

“Am I a good mother (etc.)?”…becomes “Am I as good a mother as she?”

In a world of a constant influx of data and images and streaming, one can easily be overwhelmed, becoming so distracted and focused on the barrage of images instead of on the reality in front of you.

Ladies, may we have the grace to remember that there is a difference between being invisible and being hidden. To be invisible means that no part of me can be seen in any way, but to be hidden means for me that there is some purpose behind the hidden-ness.

To be hidden is to be veiled.

For a time.

For a purpose.

For a reality that is perhaps bigger than even I can understand.

So for those of you that feel invisible (but are really just hidden), I understand how you’re feeling because I feel the same way.  …though my emotions experience this, what is my reality?  This is not solely about what I feel, but this is primarily about seeing reality as it is.

So what is the reality?

You are seen.

You are known.

You are chosen.

You are loved.

You are good.

You are beautiful.

Our Father sees and knows every movement of our hearts, and it is His pleasure “to give us the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

…so for every baby you’ve rocked to sleep, thank you.  He sees you.

…for every friend whom you’ve comforted while carrying your own sadness, thank you.  He sees you.

…for every offering of love that has gone unnoticed or unappreciated, thank you.  He sees you.

…for every friend you’ve chosen to celebrate with joy–fighting against the lies that you will never be chosen–thank you.  He sees you.

…for every time you’ve been tempted to post this or that picture simply so as not to be forgotten, thank you for not giving into that temptation and choosing to live the really real.  He sees you.

You are not invisible. 

Truth is a sturdy foundation on which we can stand tall and with confidence.  Our lives and existence have a purpose.  His plan for us is even bigger than we can imagine.

“No eye has seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So the next time you’re tempted to doubt your being seen, slow down your thoughts for a second and take a deep breath.  Check yourself and ask, “What is reality?”

…not “What do I feel right now?” because our emotions are not always in line with reality.

…not “Why can’t I look like that or be like that or act like that?” because comparison is the surest way to despair and completely misses the mark.

…but instead “What is reality?”

Reality is Truth.

You are seen.

You are known.

You are chosen.

You are loved.

You are good.

You are beautiful.

Dare to take the risk and be seen as you truly are.

Dare to take the risk and be you.

That’s authentic beauty.  That’s reality.

That’s what this world actually needs more of–women unafraid to be who they are.

Talk about moving mountains 🙂

St. Edith Stein