Present, as air and
as possible to conjure,
Though the heart believes itself still,
I see it beating.
I possess you
no more than I possess
the air you breathe,
that I breathe,
knowing it was not I
who made your heart to beat.
Not I who made you, a palm,
a well of flowing water,
recraft of spirit and blood.
Giver, receiver; most fully the latter.
I wrote this poem for someone who was unhappy with their physical appearance. I wanted to tell them they were beautiful, but more than that I wanted to express my belief that the heart was driving their unhappiness, not their appearance.
The beauty of the inner self that Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 3:1-7 is the beauty of the heart: the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” Peter advocates for the beauty of a pure and reverent life, a life of worship lived in deference to God, and with consideration and respect towards others.
As far as outward beauty is concerned, such a life is lived in the wisdom that outward beauty will not last. It is lived in the power of God’s saving grace; believing that he will take what is broken, sinful, and undeserving and make it beautiful again; believing in restoration to life and Christ-likeness, newness and goodness, and the hope of heaven; believing that one day the same saving grace will raise a resurrection body: imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). It is a life lived in beautiful submission to the Lord. A life of unhindered prayer.
But I don’t believe that the beauty of the inner self should be treated as a consolation prize for times when a person feels outwardly unattractive. The beauty of the inner self does not condemn outward beauty, only outward adornment at its expense.
It is undeniable that every human being possesses a physicality that they are born with and which they cannot determine, and which many are prone to reject.
I believe that the origin of human life is ‘the secret place’ where we are made, the ‘depths of the earth’ where we are ‘woven together’ by God himself, where he saw our bodies before they were even formed (Psalm 139:15-16). We are the work of God’s hands. We have the beauty he creates us to have. But like the gift of life itself, outward beauty will not endure. It will fade and succumb to the curse of death. In isolation, this knowledge is hopelessness. But herein lies the power and the significance of the beauty of the inner self.
When a person feels anything but outwardly beautiful, my appreciation of their beauty may momentarily bring some relief or changed perspective but I can no more create and sustain the outward beauty of a person than I can create and sustain life itself. A true definition of beauty can only come from the one who created beauty in the first place, who out of nothing spoke into existence all that is beautiful. Beauty, outward and inner, as with life itself, belongs to God and God alone.