Beauty's reach

A Christian Science perspective: Reflections on actress Lupita Nyong'o's ("12 Years a Slave") inspiring, insightful speech on authentic beauty.

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There are, indeed, profound lessons to be learned about the holiness of true beauty – sometimes in life, sometimes in books, and recently from an award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o. At the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, her speech for her work in the film “12 Years a Slave” rippled beyond the celebration of someone honored for her exceptional talent. It broke through the boundaries of age, skin color, and circumstance, and it went viral on the Internet. It was a message in a bottle, you could say – without the bottle.

Ms. Nyong’o invoked a young black girl who had written her, finding common ground – and newfound hope – in the worldwide acceptance of the actress’s “night-shaded skin.” This prompted Nyong’o to touch down on her own failed attempts earlier in life to “negotiate with God” for lighter skin, feeling “unbeautiful” despite her mother’s repeated counsel, “You can’t eat beauty.... You can’t rely on how you look to sustain you.”

She spoke about the road traveled, beyond “the seduction of inadequacy” of her teenage years, to the higher ground of understanding something wider and deeper than she’d ever known before. “Beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume,” she said, rather in awe of this realization even as she spoke. “It was something that I just had to be.”

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The speech lasted less than five minutes. But Nyong’o didn’t leave the podium without a final musing: the need to “get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.”

Each of us can draw on moments when our concept of beauty far transcended the physical, and we found ourselves – maybe even surprisingly so – humbly edified. It is a moment that comes with the unlikely combination of power and humility. Here, we feel a sense of true freedom – beyond a world that measures us much of the time against a standard we can never quite measure up to.

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, set the bar high for these moments, encouraging us to strive to be “that one which has lost much materiality ... in order to become a better transparency for Truth” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 295). Every moment that draws its intelligence, its perception, its sense of abiding love from the Divine – allows us to lose the opacity of judgment and expectations, and to reflect on the beauty that is our God-given birthright.

Being a “better transparency,” as Mrs. Eddy calls it, allows us to experience infinite good in all its glory. It is life experienced beyond the human picture, beyond how we define and evaluate ourselves and others. As we come to understand the profound value in nourishing innately spiritual qualities, restrictions fade out. The light of our authentic being – our entirely spiritual self – has the opportunity to shine forth.

Upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. led us to the essence of transparency, too, when he spoke of “all those to whom beauty is truth and truth is beauty.”

Moment by moment, we have the opportunity to live the truth of beauty. It is given to us by God, and when we accept the gift, we flourish.

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