Friday, 4 September 2009


"You must have had beautiful curls as a baby!" My prior was not paying me a compliment, but sarcastically telling me my hair was too long and looked a mess. Usually he didn't go in for such subtleties. But that day he did. In plain language he was telling me, "Get a hair cut!"

Most of us strive to create a good impression so that people will admire and respect us. We fear that we will be despised and rejected if we fail. Image making has developed into a sophisticated art. A politician is thought to stands a better chance of being elected if he looks like a film star. That's what Ronald Reagan actually was. It's been argued that one of the reasons why Kennedy beat Nixon was because on a TV debate Nixon was thought to look like a thug, while Kennedy appeared handsome and honest.

I must admit that I'm not very bothered about how I look. Perhaps I should be. But my prior certainly was right. My scruffy appearance let my community down, if not myself.

But certainly a good impression goes way beyond how any of us looks. What people think of our behaviour is much more important. That's where the real problems begin. Before couples get married they strive to do their best not to reveal any defects, which may put off the one whose love they want to win.

But no one can keep up the appearance of being a paragon of all that is desirable. We all have faults. These will become apparent over years of marriage, or of Dominican community life. At times we will behave badly. We will be moody, selfish and unforgiving. We will be petty and reveal irritating habits. We may be seen without our teeth and our normally well groomed hair may be a mess first thing in the morning. People only discover what we're really like by sharing our lives for a number of years. Hopefully we will still take them and ourselves by surprise.

These musings came to me during our community prayers. As we sang the Divine Office I realised that while some of the psalms expressed respectable sentiments of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, joy and repentance, other psalms reflected the ugly side of human nature -anger with God and with life, bitterness, revenge and self pity. Some people have wanted to remove these psalms from the Prayer of the Church.

But wisely, the Church has retained them. Why? Certainly we are not meant to imitate these ignoble reactions, but to copy the psalmist in praying with absolute honesty. As he does so he brings before God what people actually feel. As we pray these ignoble thoughts we ask God not to confirm them but to heal them. Sometimes we will need God to heal what is wrong in the way we react or feel. And if the Prayer of the Church doesn't express our present sentiments it certainly sums up how other people are feeling. So, then we stop thinking about ourselves and turn our prayers towards our brothers and sisters who are going through a rough time.

With great honesty we exposed to God the side of us and them that is ugly. That takes great trust that he won't reject us. We are prepared to make ourselves vulnerable by stripping away the mask of pretence. We stop trying to create a false, good impression. Any way God already knows us better than we know ourselves, so there's no point in trying to deceive him.

And yet we are convinced that he will always love us, with all our faults and failings. His love for us is utterly unconditional. But he can only heal whatever is wrong in our lives if we are prepared to be absolutely honest with the Good Physician. As we bring our unworthy thoughts before God he is able to heal them and bring peace and order to our lives when they are in a mess. As he loves us as we are he helps us to become what we should be.

God's unconditional love for us is the model of how we should love each other. We will need great courage and trust to reveal our true selves, warts and all. We may well fear we will be vulnerable to contempt and rejection. So, too, will our loved ones as they make themselves equally vulnerable. But if we have the courage to welcome each other unconditionally we will not only grow in love, but also help each other to become better people. Loving mercy and compassion can help to heal the messy, ugly parts of our lives.

True. I do look more respectable and younger when shorn of my unruly grey locks. But far more important, God's love doesn't depend on the tidiness of my life, or even of my hair!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God - Not Through Menacing Mesages

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