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Uncommon Beauty7 Qualities of a Beautiful Woman
By Cynthia Heald
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Cynthia Heald
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePassion Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow them. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
Linda was not what you would call pretty, but she was attractive because of the warmth and energy I sensed as I talked with her. I met her several years ago at a conference and was immediately captivated by her spirit of adventure and zest for life.
As a young adult, Linda determined that each year she would explore a new challenge. She wanted to expand her horizons, to experience life to its fullest. She hiked popular trails, took a variety of courses at a nearby college, learned to fly-fish, traveled to prominent historical and recreational sites, and learned a new language. The year I met her, she had signed up to skydive. As I left her, I thought, She has uncommon beauty.
It was refreshing to meet someone who was adventurousand eager to grow. As I reflected on Linda's life, I realized it was passion that propelled her beyond her comfort zone to experience the world around her. She was not willing to let life settle into a tedious routine. I think Linda's desire to embrace life is what drew me to her and is what made her beautiful in my eyes.
I resonate with Linda's passion. I, too, want to make the most of the life I have. If it's possible to have a new experience or to learn something interesting, then I want to do it. I don't want life to pass me by. I don't want to come to the end of my life and have regrets for not living as fully as I could have lived.
A few years ago my husband, Jack, and I hiked the thirty-three-mile Milford Track through the wild fjord country of New Zealand. The challenging trail is considered to be one of the finest walks in the world. Although the three-day hike was strenuous, the majestic scenery was well worth our effort. The cascading waterfalls, glacially carved valleys, alpine flowers, and native birds left us with treasured memories. Jack and I are so glad we made the trip-before we were too old to walk!
The word passion is commonly equated with ardent romance, but this strong, energetic word can be used to describe the intense feelings and convictions we have about life. When I think of a woman who has passion, I think about her zest for living, her sense of purpose, and her desire to grow. A passionate woman radiates a confident "aliveness," an underlying excitement for life.
A woman who is passionate knows why she gets up in the morning. She is motivated to experience life as fully as she can and to remain hopeful in the midst of a busy and discordant world. Her passion propels her to reach for her highest aspirations, and it is this desire that produces a sparkle of inner beauty-the "beauty beauteous," as Shakespeare wrote.
I have an acquaintance who differs from Linda in every way. This woman is physically very attractive. Her hair shines, her clothes are stylish, but she lacks passion. When I am around her, she seems to be apathetic and bored with life. For various reasons this woman has chosen to create her own little world within herself. She expects life to come to her. She is not proactive but is complacent and complaining. She projects an "air" of indifference and pessimism. Her physical beauty pales in the presence of her joyless and purposeless spirit. Because her heart is without passion, her world is small.
The world stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide; Above the world is stretched the sky, No higher than the soul is high. EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
Passion to Explore
I vividly remember the January morning in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded just seventy-three seconds after blastoff. I had just dropped off my parents at the airport, turned on the radio, and heard the stunning, tragic news. Along with the rest of the nation, I was more aware and interested in this shuttle launch because of Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian and teacher to fly aboard a shuttle. I was intrigued with this adventuresome and engaging young woman. Because I had also been a teacher, her passion for learning and her willingness to widen her world captured my heart.
In 1984, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration wanted to revive interest in the space program, they considered allowing an ordinary citizen to be trained as an astronaut. They wanted a person who could communicate enthusiasm and the significance of space travel. President Reagan decided it should be "one of America's finest, a teacher."
Christa's friends encouraged her to apply to the Teacher in Space program. After completing an eleven-page application, she became one of 11,500 applicants. She was surprised when she was chosen because many of the people who applied were accomplished scholars. She considered herself to be just an average woman. And in a way she was. This mother of two children was a typical suburban woman who taught in high school, played tennis, and volunteered at the local hospital.
But Christa had "a certain something" that set her apart from others. The students of Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire, flocked to her social studies classes in order to learn from this enthusiastic, passionate teacher. They considered her an "inspirational human being, a marvelous teacher who made their lessons come alive." Because Christa believed in providing hands-on learning experiences, she was known as the "The Field Trip Teacher."
Christa was eager to go on the shuttle mission. When she was interviewed, she said, "I think just opening up the door, having this ordinary person fly, says a lot for the future." Christa began training in the fall of 1985, and after 114 hours of instruction she was ready to take, in her own words, the "Ultimate Field Trip."
Christa McAuliffe personified passion: a zest for life, a desire to grow, a confident aliveness. Her mother, Grace Corrigan, wrote, "Christa lived. She never just sat back and existed. Christa always accomplished everything that she was capable of accomplishing. She extended her own limitations. She cared about her fellow human beings. She did the ordinary, but she did it well and unfailingly."
Passion is doing the ordinary well and unfailingly.
What an ideal definition of passion: doing the ordinary well and unfailingly. These words perfectly describe Christa. Her zeal for making her life count reinforced her legacy of doing the ordinary thoughtfully and faithfully. Like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Christa knew that her world could be no wider than her heart and that she could experience life only as fully as her soul would allow. Although Christa lived to be only thirty-seven years old, she will be remembered as a passionate young woman who far away there, in the sunshine, reached for her highest aspirations.
You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can decide how you're going to live now. JOAN BAEZ
Passion for What Is Right
One woman who decided how she was going to live was Mary Harris "Mother" Jones. Around the turn of the twentieth century this widow and seamstress unrelentingly worked to better conditions for the common laborer, particularly miners. She was called the "miner's angel" because she tirelessly fought for shorter hours, better pay, and the right of workers to unionize. "She was a true folk heroine, the 'Jeanne d'Arc of the miners.'" Mary "was a benevolent fanatic, a Celtic blend of sentiment and fire, of sweetness and fight." She believed that "the militant, not the meek, shall inherit the earth." Mother Jones was passionate!
Another woman with a passion for what is right was Ida Bell Wells-Barnett. Ida was born into slavery six months before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. She was an ardent and outspoken advocate for black civil and economic rights as well as women's rights. "Her fiery and fearless one-woman crusade to end the infamous practice of lynching makes her especially worthy of recognition.... Her courage and lifelong commitment to racial justice have made her one of the most preeminent black leaders of all time." Certainly Ida left the world better and more beautiful because of her passion for human rights.
Another woman whose passion had an impact on issues of human rights was Dorothea Lange, a photojournalist hired by the War Relocation Authority during World War II to take pictures of the Japanese-Americans sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Dorothea used her passion for photography to capture not only the stark realities of the armed camps but also the raw courage of the detainees. Her photos were so real that the government-her employer-censored many of them. After her death, her photographs were exhibited in the Whitney Museum. When A. D. Coleman, a New York Times art critic, visited the exhibit, he wrote, "Lange's photographs ... convey the feeling of the victims as well as the facts of the crime." Dorothea's passion helped people see the truth.
These passionate women not only helped others to see the truth but also lived the truth. Passion is like that. When we are deeply passionate, we take on the world and take no thought about ourselves. We willingly strive and even sacrifice for what is good and right, and in the process we become uncommonly beautiful.
When we are deeply passionate, we willingly strive and even sacrifice for what is good and right.
What if you believed something passionately but knew that if you followed your belief, you would be defying authority and could die as a result? What would you do? Would you have the courage to follow your conscience?
Antigone, the main character in Sophocles' ancient play Antigone, was caught in a moral dilemma. Both of her brothers had died, but the king decreed that only one of the brothers could receive a proper and honorable burial. Antigone could not bear the thought that her other brother, whom the king perceived to be a traitor, would not be buried. His body would be left to decay, exposed to the animals and sun. To complicate matters, the king ordered that anyone who buried this man would be put to death.
What was Antigone to do? Compelled by her belief that moral law is higher than human law, she chose to violate the king's command and bury her brother, knowing she might die as a result.
When confronted with unfairness and a violation of rights, Antigone nobly chose to value what was right over what was decreed. Her passion compelled her to commit what she called a "crime of devotion."
Although Antigone ultimately took her own life, she had no second thoughts. These are among her last words:
No, I do not suffer from the fact of death, But if I had let my own brother stay unburied I would have suffered all the pain I do not feel now.
Antigone's sacrifice may seem extreme and unmerited in today's world, but her burning desire, her passion to remain true to her conscience rather than conform to society, challenges me to live truly and boldly in my world.
It is interesting that during World War II, a version of Antigone was rewritten and used to strengthen and encourage the resistance against the Nazis. Her courage, her fervency to stand for what is right, emboldened the spirits of those who were fighting injustice.
People living deeply have no fear of death. ANAIS NIN
Passion for People
Just as the Japanese-Americans whom Dorothea Lange photographed were forced to leave their homes because of their racial and ethnic heritage, Priscilla was forced out of her home because she was a Jew. In AD 50, the Roman emperor expelled all Jews from Rome, creating chaos in the lives of Priscilla and her husband, Aquila.
Feeling the sting of persecution, she packed her belongings and left everything she knew-her home, her friends, and her familiar surroundings-to find refuge in a foreign country. After a thousand-mile journey, she and her husband settled in Corinth, a Greek city known for its wealth, luxury, and immorality. They knew very few people in the city and were forced to start over.
Instead of bemoaning her fate, Priscilla turned to the things she was passionate about: her faith and her love for people. She opened her heart and her home to people who needed friendship and encouragement. Priscilla and Aquila were successful tentmakers by trade, and they immediately set up shop in their house. They met another tentmaker, a Jew named Paul, who was unmarried and needed the comfort of a home. He experienced Priscilla's warm hospitality when he lived and worked with them for a period of time. I can only imagine the number of people who knocked on her door-those coming to have tents made or mended, and those who came to visit with the great teacher, the apostle Paul.
After traveling with Paul to the city of Ephesus, Priscilla and her husband established a church that met in their home. They later returned to Corinth and eventually to Rome, where in both places they welcomed into their home a congregation of believers. Persecution was still a real threat, and the couple faced great risk as they ministered to many people. I believe that it was Priscilla's passion for life that enabled her to graciously labor alongside her husband, to entertain, and to encourage many people in their faith. Paul mentioned in his letter to the Roman church that Priscilla and Aquila had risked their lives for him. It is not clear what Paul was referring to, but it has been suggested that perhaps during the Ephesian riots, Priscilla and her husband had saved Paul from harm or death. A loving wife, a humble tentmaker, an ardent follower of Christ, Priscilla personified passion throughout her life.
Each in her own way, Christa, Antigone, and Priscilla rose to the occasion and reached for their highest aspirations. Each was defined by passion. Each illustrated the truth that a woman does not have to be known as a beauty to be considered beautiful. Passion adorns when it is deeply embedded in the heart and arises freely to grace its bearer.
We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies. EMILY DICKINSON
Passion out of Balance
The women whose stories we've examined are remembered with affection because their passion consisted of a courageous fervency that enriched their lives and the lives of others. Their passion did not dominate their lives, but it permeated and guided their everyday decisions. Their zest for life-kept in balance-produced an uncommon beauty.
Sometimes the beauty of passion is its subtlety. An overly passionate woman is often too eager, too forceful, and extreme in her beliefs. I am not especially drawn to excessive personalities who tend to focus exclusively on their wants and special interests.
Barbara became just such a person after she volunteered with a certain charity. Her admirable desire to help soon dominated her life, and she lost all sense of perspective. She neglected her family. She ignored her friends and turned every conversation into a commercial for her cause. Her extreme drivenness did not beautify; it actually made her unattractive.
Another woman whose passion was out of balance was Queen Jezebel. Driven by her self-centeredness, this queen used her passion to get whatever she wanted. She had an innocent man killed because he would not sell some land her husband wanted. She was so intimidating that the prophet Elijah ran for his life because the queen had sworn to have him killed within twenty-four hours. In writing about women in the Bible, Herbert Lockyer said of Jezebel, "A gifted woman, she prostituted all her gifts for the furtherance of evil, and her misdirected talents became a curse." Jezebel's passion was tragically out of control, and it produced a woman who is remembered with contempt.
Becoming a Passionate Woman
How can we become passionate women? How can we acquire or develop a poised, passionate spirit? Unfortunately, we can't just decide, "I will now be a passionate woman." But we can examine our lives by asking a few questions: What do I get excited about? Why do I get up in the morning? What social concerns or causes stir my passion? In what aspects of my life do I want to grow? What have I always wanted to do?
Excerpted from Uncommon Beauty by Cynthia Heald Copyright © 2007 by Cynthia Heald. Excerpted by permission.
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