Bread – Countenance

June 11, 2012


Readings for Monday, June 11 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Eccles. 7:1-14; Gal. 4:12-20; Matt. 15:21-28; Psalms 56, 57, 64, 65

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Much is made of appearance. In fact, much of our time in the morning is spent in preparing ourselves for the day – washing ourselves in water, anointing our bodies with oils and lotions, taking on pleasant smells, doctoring our face to increase our attractiveness, selecting clothes which are appropriate for the tasks of the day.

As part of our appearance, we become practiced at what I will call “the smile,” the facial expressions which convey that all is right in the world and in our lives, that we are confident and ready, that we are smart, and that we are happy. “The smile” is something which we can put on at will, but is it truly reflective of our heart? Does “the smile” reflect our true condition, or is merely a type of wallpaper over a damaged wall?

There is a peculiar reading in Ecclesiastes today which caused me to stop and think. It is “…for by sadness of face the heart is made glad…the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Eccles. 7:3b, 4b This is the exact opposite of what we believe. We believe that putting on “the smile” helps us both feel and be better. Ecclesiastes says that the path to gladness in our innermost being, our heart, is “sadness of face.”

Although not in our reading today, what this recalls to me is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matt. 5:3-4.

It then struck me that what Solomon is saying in Ecclesiastes is simply that the work of man is putting on “The smile” in the hope and expectation that his heart will be happy, whereas the work of God is to cause us to recognize our sin, cause us to recognize that the creation, our relationships with each other, our relationship with God, and even ourselves are broken. When we realize our true state, we put on the countenance (face) of sadness. But in so doing, the work of God is to give us Jesus Christ and in Him, then, gladness of heart.

Once this occurs, once we surrender our attempts to put on “The smile,” once we leave the “house of mirth” and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, as we abide in Him and grow and mature in our Christian faith, an amazing thing happens. Our gladness of heart, our joy in living and being, our freedom in Christ becomes reflected in our countenance, in our face. We take on, not “The smile,” but instead the wholeness of countenance which glows, which is reflective of our heart.

We know this. We know this immediately when we are talking to the “used car salesman,” who has “The smile” but no gladness. We know this immediately when we see the person with lines of struggle in their face, demonstrating the hardship life has dished out to them, but who have the heart of joy reflected in the countenance of an angel.

We can see through the phony, but we do it anyway. We think that living in the “house of mirth (laughter)” is the solution, while the real solution is recognizing that we are lost, lonely, poor, and sad, letting that reality be reflected in our countenance and in our admission of guilt, and then letting God work His will in our lives, beginning with our acceptance of His gift to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Then we will abandon “The smile” for a face reflecting our joy. Then we can throw out “The smile” forever.

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