Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Trolling for glances - The Instructor on women embellishing the body

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"Love of dainties and love of wine, though great vices, are not of such magnitude as fondness for finery. 'A full table and repeated cups' are enough to satisfy greed. But to those who are fond of gold, and purple, and jewels, neither the gold that is above the earth and below it is sufficient; ... not even were a man to become a Midas would he be satisfied, but would be still poor, craving other wealth. Such people are ready to die with their gold." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
To Clement, luxury and voluptuousness were some of the great sins of his generation. However, one who desired food and drink would eventually become full or dunk to unconsciousness, yet those who desire "things" are never satisfied. No matter what we have, there is always someone else who has more and we lust for the more they have. We are delighted with having the the latest and greatest until the later and greater come and then we must have that as well. Love of things is an endless pursuit that, in the end, leaves us empty and poor; rich in things, but poor in soul. This burden of pursuit is compounded when the things we seek are things we hope to make us beautiful. For no mater how hard or long we pursue external beauty, we will never be satisfied and will never find what our souls are truly looking for.
"Having, then, no limit to their lust, they push on to shamelessness. For the theatre, and pageants, and many spectators, and strolling in the temples, and loitering in the streets, that they may be seen conspicuously by all, are necessary to them. For those that glory in their looks, not in heart, dress to please others. For as the brand shows the slave, so do gaudy colours the adulteress." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
Why do we dress the way we do? For the woman who spends hours before a mirror getting all "dressed up," for whom is she preparing herself? If it is to be seen and admired by others, are we not behaving in a meretricious way? Selling our beauty for the amorous desires of others? Are we dressing in a way to invoke a sensuous response in those by whom we wish to be seen? Whether conscious or not, are we, by our dress and appearance, trying to solicit an illicit response from others? For whom are we dressing up and for what response? While desiring to be seen by others, have we ceased to care about the glances of God who sees us and yet loves us?
"Is it not monstrous, that while horses, birds, and the rest of the animals, spring and bound from the grass and meadows, rejoicing in ornament that is their own, in mane, and natural colour, and varied plumage; woman, as if inferior to the brute creation, should think herself so unlovely as to need foreign, and bought, and painted beauty?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 2)
A love for finery and a desire to be seen are symptoms of a deeper need; the need to be loved, noticed, and affirmed. All this dressing up is a doomed attempt to procure what only God can provide: true love. We will never "feel" beautiful until we come to know the one who created us beautiful. The cure for the diseases of our soul is the living Word of God, even our Instructor, Jesus. He alone can set us free from our relentless pursuit of beauty.

David Robison

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