More Beautiful in Person

It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful. 

The lesson of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.

-St. Francis of Assisi



A couple of weeks ago I created a heart painting that particularly spoke to a friend of mine. She saw the picture on Facebook and liked the image so much she decided to buy the original. She’s in Cincinnati; I’m in Louisville. We arranged for a friend of mine who’s frequently between the two cities to deliver it to her. When she received the heart, she texted me:

My heart is even more beautiful in person.

I was delighted that my art had touched her in that way. Her statement has also led me to deeper reflection:

Isn’t it true that all of our hearts, when we reveal them, are more beautiful in person?

I can hear the voices of protest already. “But what about this person…do you really think this person has a beautiful heart? Or what about that one? Surely you’re not saying that even that person has a beautiful heart?”

My answer is yes, this person…and even that person have beautiful hearts, but some hearts have gotten lost, are in hiding, are deep beneath layers of defensive protection…and so what we see is not actually their hearts, but all the muck and armor and whatever else is there to obscure what we see. I believe that we are all made in the image of God, Love, That Which is Whole.  I also believe that some people’s hearts have been distanced so long from the divine source that they’ve forgotten their true nature.

What is it that causes us to armor our hearts? Is it fear that if we reveal our ourselves vulnerably, we’ll be hurt…again? Is it fear that if we open ourselves and connect to the hearts of others- those who are suffering from the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other -isms and -phobias- that we’ll be so consumed by grief, guilt, helplessness, that we won’t be able to hold those connections in balance with the connections that bring us joy, acceptance, a sense of agency and purpose? Are we even aware of the armor?

What is it that causes us not only to shield our hearts, but to lash out defensively, assaulting anyone who might try to touch that place most sacred within us, assaulting even people who have nothing to do with us? Are we afraid of what can happen if we don’t act with ferocity? Are we aware that we are only passing on our own unhealed pain?

I can think of more than a few people in both my personal circles and in the public sphere who seem to be acting from these places of fear and anger. I can think of times when I have acted from those places. I imagine there will be more such times. When I am at my best (not acting from those places), I can both hold my own emotions and also generate curiosity about what the other has experienced that has caused them to be the way they are. in those times, I am able to practice open-heartedness. These practices are part of my compassionate communication journey.

When I know and trust my own heart’s beauty, born of divinity, I can embrace God in people where God’s presence is not so obvious. In those moments I remind myself that they are more than what I see. I hope that someday I will see the beauty of their hearts. I wish it for myself, I wish it for them, and I wish it for our world. Our world needs more hearts’ beauty revealed.

What I am learning, slowly, through practice, practice where I learn from messing up over and over again, is that if I approach people with trust in their heart’s beauty, if I embrace God in them, even when I can’t immediately see it, sometimes I may get an unexpected glimpse of their divine nature. Vulnerable. Open. More beautiful in person than I could have imagined.

In truth, this is why I love the work I am called to do. When I am commissioned to create a heart portrait, I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts in a visual image. When I offer Reiki to someone, I get to see the beauty of people’s energetic bodies. When I teach Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication), I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts through the language of both body and words.

The experience reminds me of Thomas Merton’s epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) in Louisville:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.


You are beautiful.

Your heart is beautiful.

Your heart is more beautiful in person.

I want to see it. The world needs to see it.

And whether we can or we can’t see that beauty in the moment, let us embrace each other, knowing that God is in all things and all people.



“So pretty, what a waste,” he said with a smile on his face.  

An older gentleman approached me at a gathering recently and started a conversation with those words. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment.



While I have control over the way I care for myself, I do not have control over the face I was born with, or my hair, or the bones and cartilage that give shape to my skin. These parts of my being are nothing to take pride in because I did nothing to “earn” them.  

The man who made the comment knows me.

He knows I've been a teacher of Spanish and theology. 

He knows I’ve traveled the world and taught English in India and Palestine.

He knows I’ve been a human rights defender in Palestine.

He knows that I now speak and write about my experiences.

He knows I sing well. To be clear, I did not “earn” my voice either, but I have trained it and I make the choice to sing. My singing seems to bring joy or solace or peace to people. It would be a waste not to use that gift. All of us have been given talents that we may choose to develop; let us not squander them. 

I have made many life choices that I feel good about, choices that I know have benefited me and I believe have also, in a very small way, benefited the world.

The way I look has never entered into my decisions or ability to do any of those things.

I have also made choices that likely would not have even been options if I were married and/or had children. While there are times when I have longed for those things, it would be ungracious of me to deny the richness that my life has offered, and continues to offer, because I am single. It would be ungracious to deny the profound impact of the people who have entered, and sometimes also exited, my life. I believe I have also had an impact on the lives of others. 

But apparently, in the mind of this gentleman, because I am, by his standards, “pretty” and also not married, somehow my life is wasted. The other implication, that people who, by his standards, aren't pretty have little to offer a marriage, is equally insulting.  So... No.




My looks are not the best I have to offer. I did not work for them. They don't make me any more capable of being in any relationship in a fruitful way.  And I will not always have them.  

Regardless of how I look, I am proud that I am trying to live according to my values (with varying degrees of success). I will always have the fact that I am trying to live a life of integrity.

will always have the memories of my time in El Salvador and Guatemala and India and Palestine, at home, and in so many other places. If I had chosen not to take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves in my life, that would be a waste. All of us have been given opportunities that we may choose to take; let us not squander them. 

When I look at the people I know, I am astounded by the breadth and depth of their care for me, for others, for our world. These people have helped shape who I am and they continue to support me as I walk my path. I will always have those connections and relationships. 

To the best of my knowledge, none of those relationships are or were based on my looks: whether I am “pretty” or not, whether I wear make-up or tweeze my eyebrows or dye my graying hair or shave my legs. To the best of my knowledge, none of those things are the reason that I am single, either. If those are the primary factors someone wants to judge me by, then no thank you. And if marital status is the only relationship that someone thinks validates my worth, then no thank you.  I am valuable simply because I am

Dear women and girls, whether YOU choose to wear make-up or tweeze or dye or shave is completely up to you, but please know that doing – or not doing – any of those things does not make you any more worthy of care or respect. Anyone who can’t see your value beyond your natural looks or the way you choose to present yourself is not worth your time. Whether you choose single life or married life or some other kind of life is up to you. Anyone who judges your value based on only one particular relationship (or lack thereof) is not worth your time. 

Dear men and boys, whether the women and girls you know choose to wear make-up or tweeze or dye or shave is completely up to them and no one else. If you are a father, make sure your daughters know this. Their beauty, the beauty of all of us, goes much deeper than what you can see. Dear men and boys, take the time to discover the beauty that comes from deep within, not the “pretty” you can easily see. And if the women and girls you know are “pretty” and you want to compliment them, make sure they know that you value more than the way they look.

I am more than "pretty." Being so (by some person's standards) does not make my worth any greater than anyone else's. You, too, are more than what I can see; you are valuable simply because you are. Let us look beyond the surface, so that we can see all people as they truly are, as Thomas Merton described it, “shining like the sun.”

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