Every Face An Icon

Every Face An Icon March 16, 2017


The other day, I read a short piece entitled “3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Human Face,” over at Truth from the Heart. 

It’s an interesting little article by a student who’s discovered Von Hildebrand. Hannah Bruckner is an undergraduate theology major at Franciscan University. She’d always loved psychology and mystery shows; she was delighted to discover a philosopher’s observations about the human face. The face, as she reports,  is a mystery, with two kinds of beauty– the aesthetic beauty of the facial features and the beauty of its expression. “In a unique collaboration between metaphysical beauty and the beauty of a visible form, the human face mysteriously and outwardly expresses what is interiorly experienced by that person.”

I’ve often wondered why I so rarely see a face that is truly ugly. There are very few people I’ve ever looked at and not found beautiful. Bruckner’s enthusiastic meditation helps me express why. Whatever aesthetic flaws might be present, human expression is a beautiful, mysterious thing.

I think we can easily be desensitized to that mystery. We do see faces most every day. As an introvert, I sometimes feel that I’ve seen too many faces before the day’s half done. I forget to pay reverence to the miracles taking place all around me– wherever I look, I see faces.

What is a face? A face is a weird meeting of flesh and spirit;  muscle and gristle and skin animated by an immortal soul, expressing the experience of that soul to the world. When I see a human face, I see the icon of Christ. In reading that icon, I read the little gospel of that little Christ.

I’ve often thought that, if we could see a human being for what they really are, we wouldn’t be able to look away.  We would always be on our knees in reverence toward one another, longing to help, disappointed if there was no real way to be present and bear each other’s crosses. In this fallen world, so much is veiled from us. We have to take it on faith that every person is Christ. If we’re not attentive; if we don’t frequently call to mind what we know by faith, we can miss so much. The face is the iconostasis. If we gazed with attention at the iconostasis often enough, we might find the doors open, and see Christ on the altar. Then, Christ would come out and reveal Himself to us. But He can’t reveal Himself if we won’t look up at where He is.

I should take more time to rejoice in this mystery. Reverent attention is what people owe one another in justice, and besides, it’s good for me. I see so much more beauty when I pay attention.

(image via Pixabay) 

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