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Imperishable beauty

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

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The Greek vase in the display case stood a little over half my height. On it, a handsome young man with rippling muscles and washboard abs gestures toward a slender woman with beautiful eyes and a serene face. They set a standard of beauty that hasn't changed much in 3,000 years.

As the note next to the pot explained, such a large and impressive urn held only the most precious items in the home - an especially fine oil or perhaps the ashes of an ancestor. It wasn't made to store last week's table scraps. The outside indicated the worth of the contents on the inside.

That was something to think about as I wandered on to the other galleries in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Had I seen that vase 20 years earlier, I might have ruminated on the extraordinary beauty of the painted people and how unattainable this standard was for me.

As a teen, I received compliments for being a nice kid, a good student, even a strong athlete. But no one ever said I was beautiful. If anything, the cruelest comments said just the reverse. In a face-and-body obsessed culture, I developed the self-image of someone both unlovely and unlovable. If I had been a vase, I would have been a plain, unadorned jug that held a terrible mix of depression and self-loathing.

But as I left the Greek period behind me in the MFA and walked past later centuries of art, I was struck how the influence of Christianity had transformed painting and sculpture with a radically different standard for a beautiful life. Portraits captured people with an inner light that beautified them.

Jesus invited the discouraged, the impaired, and the outcast to rethink the values of contemporary culture: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matt. 6:28, 29).

Beauty is not something to be achieved with wealth or special creams or even surgery. Beauty is innate, a spiritual quality within us, radiating outward.

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