Because of what happened to me, anytime I feel close to someone or something ugly, I am terrorized. Ugly is intolerable; it’s torture. As a child I was connected to something ugly. My mother once reprimanded me severely for asking her a question she disliked. She picked me up from Montessori school and I got into the car and asked, “Why aren’t you pretty like the other mothers?”
Rape is a spiritual event, the predator is inside of you. When the assault is over, the connection between the prey and the predator remains like an outpost or an anchor. At night, when the images and the words and the connected terror return to me most vividly, I often start up as if I’ve been bitten, and in that instant my thought is that I need to die. I can’t stand another moment. I need to sever the connection between myself and my mother so that I am not a portal for her back into this world; it takes enormous willpower not to die. I understand suicidal impulse, the nearly impossible-to-deny compulsion to make it stop, to eradicate the predator inside no matter the cost.
I’ve spent my whole life studying redemption in an effort to understand if something as ugly as me can be redeemed. I’ve spent my whole life picking up little objects from gutters, from beaches, from other people’s trash, and then treasuring those things, loving them, assuring myself that it is indeed possible to find beauty in what others deem worthless. God picks me and you and all of us up out of the same gutter, in the same condition, filthy, humiliated, rejected, and then, as only God can, we are treasured, adored, showered with attention and persistent love and then we are beautiful.
There are things I love because they are too beautiful not to love – my son, babies, certain books and songs. Sometimes something is just so beautiful I nearly swoon. But I myself fall into the opposite category. I’m too ugly to love. I want to climb right out of myself, shuck myself off and be purified. This is not redemption. God does not look at me and advise me to clean myself up. God delights in me. There is no willful blindness in God’s disposition towards me. I do ugly things daily; I think cruel thoughts, I wish for, and do, mean things. I am not loved because of what I do, so I cannot be unloved because of what I do. God’s love for me and for you has no reason, no justification. Love transforms. Only love transforms. Only love modifies. Hate, that is – some act of pushing away or pushing down – this does not cause change. But love, love changes everything, love can change anything.
What have I proven with my beautiful soda bottle caps and matchcovers and detritus? I’ve proven that ugliness is not inherent, that it is not definitive. I’ve proven that if I love it, it becomes my beloved. The act of love is the most radical act. Nothing hideous survives love. Had my mother been willing to endure God’s sustained attention, eventually even she would have been redeemed by the unstoppable radiance of love.
Ugliness is not something to be cut out or cut off. The burden it represents is just exactly that – my job is to accommodate my ugliness, to tolerate it. I can’t fix it. I can’t stop thinking mean thoughts. I can only expose myself to what loves me – God. The filth in me will not survive love. Ugliness dies in the presence of love the same way as one chemical effortlessly eradicates another simply by showing up.