What Hiding Our Faces Tells Us About The Condition Of Our Souls

What Hiding Our Faces Tells Us About The Condition Of Our Souls BY: MAUREEN MULLARKEY for The Federalist

Faces and our responses to them have taken on an urgency previously unfelt. How to begin making sense of what the human face arouses?

Here within the orbit of Manhattan, masks are not merely tolerated; they are embraced. Obedience to Covidian biopolitics elevated masking to a sacramental act. It has become the secular analogy to sprinkling holy water or making the sign of the cross.

Merit accrues to a new ritual observance that effaces individual identity and desensitizes us to the complex role of faces in personal communication. This compulsive masking sharpens my memory of words that have stayed with me since girlhood: “By the time you are 40, you are responsible for your own face.”

That stern caution came from a woman equipped to offer it. Mary Jane Robertshaw, O.S.U., was the lively minded director of the art department at a Catholic women’s college from 1957 to 1997. A gifted weaver, sculptor, ceramicist, and scholar, Mother Mary Jane, as students called her, delighted in telling appearance-conscious undergraduates that the making of one’s face was not in our own hands as if it were clay on a potter’s wheel.

Instead, the tenor of our faces—their expressive tonality—is formed and fixed in the furnace of living. The lived life is a kiln that consumes facile ideas about how to create, or maintain, mortal beauty. Only moral imagination resists the old pagan cult of the body with its fixation on health and material beauty.

At a certain age, mother insisted, every face is stamped—who knows how?—with the character of our choices, of what we have found worthy of praise or blame. It is inflected by those things we pity and those we censure or resent. In the eyes of this Ursuline nun, a face is the work of our minds. Incised on it is the texture and reach of our hearts. Call it soulcraft.

“So, girls, remember what you’ve read: ‘God’s better beauty, grace.’”

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