Then said I, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.”- Isaiah 6:5-7
“You have the most beautiful blue eyes! What is your surname?” asked an elegantly dressed elderly man who was perhaps once a teacher or maybe even a lawyer. He looked liked an interesting person whom you would engage in a conversation just for the sake of it. However, the timing wasn’t the best. We were sitting on the ground in a square playing a game of Uno with Nayara, a homeless teenage girl. Our attention was focused on her but his comments were only directed to the person with blue eyes. They belonged to our volunteer from Holland. The rest of us felt a little awkward and smiled politely and tried to continue the game. However, we weren’t quite successful. The elderly man was persistent. He wanted to know everything about our friend and her ancestry. Then he noticed Mary’s light colored eyes and became curious about Mary. He continued to ask a series of questions directed to Mary. The young teenage girl in our midst was totally ignored. Nayara is sixteen years old. She is a pretty girl but her eyes are brown. Not for a moment, her presence was acknowledged. Neither was mine for the matter, but the topic of conversation was beautiful women and I am automatically disqualified as a subject matter. Nayara emotionally retreated from our group and eventually she told us that she was going to quit the game and left.
Nayara comes from a poor family and at a young age her mother had to give up her to an orphanage. She spent most of her life moving from one orphanage to another. Finally, she ran away and ended up the streets. This particular day she was feeling a little depressed because she was rejected by her boyfriend who is also homeless. Perhaps today of all the days, she wanted to know that she was still beautiful, but unfortunately in the conversation about physical beauty, she was the only woman who was ignored.
The elderly man was not deliberately ignoring Nayara. She just did not perk his curiosity. He is accustomed to homeless teens. He could not see her beauty because he could see past her homelessness. For him, the European woman playing a game of cards in the streets was more interesting and he could appreciate her beauty. She had all the features that this culture considers beautiful. This man could only see beauty defined along cultural lines. We are no different from him. We are conditioned by the standards of beauty of our culture as well. This made me question myself. Am I able to see beauty in the children and teens whom we minister or do I just see them as homeless children? They are beautiful as well. However, our culture has conditioned us to see beauty only in those who are dressed and act in certain way.
In the above biblical text, Isaiah came face-to face with the presence of God. He saw God’s glory and beauty in its plenitude and he realized that his cultural conditioning had limited his understanding of true beauty. The angel purified the prophet’s mind with holy fire so that his mind could be open to perceive God’s glory and beauty even in the darkest moments of Israel’s history.
Neoplatonic teachings on love and beauty argue that whenever we see and appreciate anything beautiful, we are actually seeing the presence of God in the person or object. It is an idea that is compatible with the Bible since we believe that God is the creator of all things and beauty helps us see God in his created artwork. It is not enough for us to just serve the forgotten ones in society. We must go beyond our cultural conditioning and see beauty in those whom we serve. This is important because the truth of the matter is that we can only value things which are beautiful to us. We cannot see the true value of a person unless we can see their true beauty. This cannot be a culturally conditioned idea of beauty which is superficial and ephemeral. It has to be beauty that draws us closer to the eternal reality of God. It is a beauty which opens our hearts and minds to see the image of God imprinted in the soul of the person.
The old man has unintentionally challenged me. He made me question whether I could see the eternal beauty of God in these children and teens. I have to confess, it is not easy. I can see their faults and perhaps the unpleasant areas of their lives more clearly. I realized that I am indeed a man of unclean lips and I need an angel to bring a coal from God’s holy fire to purify my mind. My mind needs to see the beauty of God present in these children and teens. It is this beauty that is going to help me to truly value and treasure them as God treasures them.