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There’s something about faces.
A week and a half ago, Twelve blogger, Debra Rienstra, posted her reflection on the story of Katie Stubblefield, the youngest ever face transplant recipient and the subject of a recent National Geographic feature. I let myself get lost in Katie’s story of pain, beauty, and hope. I also let myself get lost in Debra’s weaving of Katie’s story with C.S. Lewis’s novel, Till We Have Faces, in which Lewis asks through the voice of a character, “How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?” We are all on journey, I suppose, when it comes to our faces. As Debra closes her post, “None of us, after all, is yet whole. None of us has our true face.” There’s something about faces.
Not long before reading Debra’s post, my husband showed me the Facebook page of make-up artist, Mimi Choi. Mimi paints her face to create mind-bending optical illusions. “A mask tells you more than a face,” she captioned one photo. “Not everyone deserves to know the real you. Let them criticize who they think you are,” she captioned another. Her work intrigues and disturbs me, because… there’s something about faces.
A few months ago, a college friend revealed in a Facebook post that she has partial face-blindness (see this article to learn more about it). She wrote, “When I see you, chances are I have no clue who you are. No, really. I’m face-blind. The world is a sea of generic looking people.” My friend finds other ways to recognize people, of course. In spite of her limitation, she excels at life. She is a professor, a mother, a wife, a writer. This is what I think of and thank God for when I think about her, and I am haunted by her reality – that “the world is a sea of generic looking people” – because… there’s something about faces.
A few years ago, an Ojibway friend of ours gave my oldest daughter a doll that he had made of leather and dressed with a leather tunic and beautiful beadwork. The doll did not have a face, and this was intentional. “The Creator looks at the heart,” our friend said. When my youngest daughter received her doll without a face, she promptly took out a sharpie and drew a face on it. I think she did this because… there’s something about faces.
We have complex desires, I think, when it comes to our literal faces and how we are received by other people and by God.
We have a desire to project a certain image of ourselves to others and to God, and behind that projection we hide our true selves. Whether we use make-up or our social media accounts or our facial expressions, we all have veils and masks.
Deeper than the desire to hide is the desire that we would be known and understood and loved (by people and by God) in spite of our faces – whether masked or unmasked, conventionally beautiful or not, recognizable or not. The Creator, after all, looks at the heart.
But deepest and most mysterious of all is our desire to be fully seen and fully known and fully understood and recognized for who we really are, including the reality of our faces. We want to see and be seen, face to face.
I preached this past Sunday from Revelation 22:4, where we read that we will see God’s face and God’s name will be on our foreheads. I referenced 1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” I thought about Jacob and Moses and their claims to have seen God face to face. We sang, “When I stand in glory, I will see his face.” And I blessed my congregation with the words of the Aaronic blessing, “The Lord turn his face toward you and give you his peace.”
I found myself wondering, in the midst of the message and in conversations afterward, “What does Scripture mean by this? Are all these references to God’s face anthropomorphic? Does ‘face to face’ really just mean ‘heart to heart’ or ‘real being to real being’?”
Somehow God is Spirit and unseeable and beyond all, and at the same time, God took on a face. A real human face. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Our faces matter. The face of God in Jesus Christ matters. “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We don’t know what the face of Christ looks like, but we will know him when we see him. And we will be known. And seen. And recognized. And loved.