In a recent post, I asked in passing what we see when we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning and catch our reflection in a mirror. Some of us, after all, spend a lot of time curating what others see when we walk out of the house: we fix our hair or hide it under a hat; we don makeup or sunglasses.
But that first glance in the mirror shows us who we are before all the interventions. Is the face that looks back at us too fat or too skinny? Too dark or too pale? Too bleary-eyed? Too full of acne? Too wrinkled? Too…what?
You may have one or more ways that you might fill in the blank. Try to imagine, then, that one morning you wake up and see yourself in a mirror. Instead of sighing with resignation, you actually smile. And then you think to yourself, “God sure does terrific work. I am marvelous.”
Right. I don’t do that either. We’d probably worry about anyone who did; how do they get their head through the door?
But if the psalmist is to be believed, we may be missing something.
. . .
As we’ve seen, the author of Psalm 139 is filled with wonder at the intimate way in which the poet is so thoroughly known by God. In other psalms, God is praised as the one who created all the vastness and glory of the earth on which we stand and the heavens at which we gaze — and yet still cares lovingly and attentively for every last bit of it. To the psalmist’s delight and amazement, this applies to God’s care for humanity as well. Thus, the psalmist is able to say, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well” (Ps 139:13-14, NRSV).
The creation is wonderful, capable of eliciting wonder. Each of us may have our own favorite image of the wonder of creation, from counting the stars in the sky to counting the fingers and toes on a newborn. Can we preserve that sense of wonder when we look at ourselves? To say that we are “fearfully” made does not mean that what we see in the mirror, even first thing in the morning, makes us want to flee in terror. It does mean that we are — to use a phrase — “simply marvelous.”
We are, in other words, marvels. And we don’t even need superpowers.
Whenever I read about the physiology of the brain, for example, I marvel. You might think that reading scientific accounts of how our brains work would demystify the complexities of thought and emotion. Far from it. Coupled to the belief in divine creation, such information only deepens my wonder at humanity and its Creator. And every human being is wondrous in that way, regardless of what stares back from the mirror.
. . .
To say, with conviction, “I’m marvelous!” can mean different things. We rightly shrink from the narcissistic meaning in which we elevate ourselves above the mere mortals that surround us. But we can and should embrace what C. S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. …[It] is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Wisely, Lewis is teaching us that it isn’t just about what we see in the mirror; it’s about what we see in each other. This isn’t just the psychological mantra of the 60s: I’m OK, You’re OK. This is I’m wondrous, you’re wondrous, because that’s how God made us. How we see and treat other matters to the destiny we are shaping with every interaction.
And it matters to our relationship with God. Can we grasp the truth that we and all our fellow humans are created in God’s image? Can we embrace the humility and reverence appropriate to that fact? Can we take hold of the vocation that it implies, to reflect the character of our Creator?
It would be marvelous if we could.