MISSION DIARY: BEAUTY THROUGH THE VEIL

by Fr. Stephen Siniari

 

Beauty walks the Strip and lights up the night.

All day Nancy deals with her tragedy. Somehow she sees Beauty through the veil: The existential lie. The cosmetic cover-up for death. Nancy serves her children.

The young girl ended up at our shelter. She'd been placed with relatives, but Uncle was depressed and shot himself. He was carried away. Auntie sent her niece upstairs with rags and a bucket, to clean up after Uncle. Looking out her bedroom window at the shelter, the girl found great comfort in the spiraled gold and ivory onion-domes gleaming in the sun over a blue summer sea. "How beautiful," she thought, and gazed for hours at the Trump Taj Mahal.

What earthly pleasure remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands unshaken on the earth? All things are flimsier than shadows, all things are flightier than dreams. One moment only and death shall supplant them all. But in the light of Thy countenance and in the sweetness of Thy beauty … (Funeral Service)

Matushka lost her faith, a casualty of communion without community: the lethal tension between the Gospel life in Christ and the priorities of a parish. She witnessed her husband descend from joylessness to hypocrisy. She endured his negligence of the family. She abandoned the field of her own inner life. All were seeking solace elsewhere.

A strange case of spiritual malaria, she was left with reoccurring episodes amid the overgrown opulence of a suburban church garden where she searched for the man and woman God had set there to serve and pray.

O Thou who of old didst call me into being out of nothingness and honor me with Thy image Divine, restore me to that image, and to my original beauty …

"Quit!" His wife urged. A church-warden was ravaged by the legalistic fervor of a Priest who knew the Canons, but not their purpose. He responded to his own fears made manifest in others with external formulas, beautiful rituals, and ecclesial appearance.

Years later the Priest encountered love. Then he understood the perseverance of the church-warden he had buried. Sometimes, late at night, he sighed in his bed.  "What's wrong?" Matushka would whisper.  "Just me." They'd reach for each other and hold hands in the darkness.

The wife of the church-warden sighed and turned over in her lonely bed.

People come to the Mission. They feel free to tell their troubles. Pointing them to Jesus Christ is the mission of the Mission. Today, very little in life is referred to Christ, be it beautiful or grotesque. People have forgotten how to weave the thread of faith into the fabric of daily life. Minute by minute, we are confronted with endless situations that require us to make decisions of an ethical, moral, or spiritual nature. Minute by minute, who we are becoming is being shaped by the choices we make. Competition for our opinion as to what is beautiful and good is very serious. Competition for our soul is deadly serious. The fruit of the serpentine purveyors is more sophisticated than ever.

Transient images, smells, touches, tastes, sounds, and spiritual intuitions permeate our existence. In and of themselves, they are ascetically neutral. We experience them and either glorify God in an Orthodox manner, fool ourselves with some religious rationale, or draw the veil of the flesh and live as if God did not exist.

Ultimately, the vision of existence we embrace reveals the extent of our willful continuing participation in the beguilement of Adam. We are still free to obfuscate our God-given vision of love and the beauty of His Garden with a veil of self-centeredness.

The vision of love is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It can glimpse beauty even in what may be labeled ugliness, horror, futility, foolishness, or failure. But there is little hope for our participation in the One True Beauty when we decide as a matter of will to divert our desire for True Beauty to whitewashing worldly tombs and saying they are beautiful. Ontologically, there is only One True Beauty. All else is beautiful only to the degree that it reflects the Hope and Truth offered to us by Jesus Christ in His Mystical Body.

There is a deep beauty — when Love glints through the diabolical veil of human freedom gone awry — when we respond to the horror, the doubt, the loneliness, the fear, the pain, doing "what we can" in offering some small act of Christ-like love:

To the young girl: The sanctuary of healing love in the shelter of those who serve.

To the clergy-family: Senseless, ceaseless love in the face of our common failure.

To the gardener and his widow: "Stand by your covenant and grow old in your work … Loving one another. Even as I love you."

From Jacob's Well
Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey
Orthodox Church in America
Fall/Winter 1997-1998

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