OK, here's one of those arresting questions: does our
outward appearance reflect our inner reality?
And I'm not talking about outward style, clothes, hair, that sort of
thing. What I'm wondering is whether or
not other people can sense that there is a working, living, alive "soul" within
us, and that they can see that soul and spirit simply through the way we appear
in the world. I wonder . . .
So recently this question popped up in a particular and
unique way. These last two Saturdays I
found myself on the ferry, and wearing the "uniform of my trade." I long
ago stopped wearing black shirts and white, plastic collars on any regular
basis. I gave up the gray flannels and
tweed coats that blended so well with the black and white and I consciously chose
some other "look" or persona. And I've
been more comfortable, in my clothes if not in my skin. But there are very particular occasions or circumstances
that can invite me to button up that black shirt and fasten on that stiff
collar. Participating in an ordination
is one such occasion. The other is being
called to a hospital room for someone who has simply and directly asked for "an
Episcopal priest." And so I found
myself, on these two occasions, sitting in the Galley looking, well,
"priestly." Or different. And maybe even a bit awkward.
Of course on both days I was indeed noticed. Friends looked, and looked again, and
wondered aloud about "the formality." I
felt some odd need to explain. But it
was from the kids that I experienced a more resonant response, and one that seemed
somehow harder to explain: "why are you wearing that?" I was twice asked. By young kids. Kids who have known me through baseball and
youth sports-and not necessarily through what I do for a living. "Why was I?" I asked myself. How was what I was wearing in any way a
reflection of what might lie under the clothes and below the skin? Was my outward appearance a sign of something
true within-or was I just putting on "the cloth" so I wouldn't have to go any
deeper? It's a tough question-and one
that I wrestle with all the time. I want
to be seamless-to show on the outside who I am on the inside. But I am far more fragmented than I will ever
The old (and seemingly true) definition of a sacrament is
"an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." In other words, what's on the outside is a
sign of what's within. A loaf of bread
is good food. Nothing less. Nothing more.
Unless it sits on the altar, in a room with hungry people-and then the
outside speaks to what really lies inside. Far more than food, to be sure--but nonetheless, food indeed.
And Where are we Going?
So what, indeed, is inside of us? What can others see by looking? If there is an image of God within us, then
perhaps we would do well to let it shine-let it be seen. Or, to put it another way, are we ourselves
sacraments? Are we outward signs of an
unseen grace? Imagine that. And if we are, then what? I'm just wondering . . .