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July 24, 2013
Tune My Heart
How Do I Look?
by Marian Stoddard

I’m pretty sure I ordered different hair in the pre-mortal life. Of all the kids in our family, I’m the only one with no curl whatsoever, no wave, no body, nothing.

My hair is baby-fine, thin looking, and straight. When I was a child, my mother would put it up for me on Saturday nights on foam rollers to sleep in; we would comb it out gently in the morning, curly, and by the time we were home from Sunday School in two hours it would be straight again.

One of my little sisters, you could brush her hair into natural ringlets around a finger; it wasn’t fair.

To remedy this sad state of affairs, I started getting home permanents from my mother when I was twelve. This led to the need to put my hair up in rollers and sit under a hair dryer after I washed it, because frizz was very, very bad.

My father would complain that we stank up the place and why did we really need to do this? One time Mom cut my hair to just above my shoulders, and we marched in to demonstrate my unaltered state.

He looked at me a moment, and said, “Prince Valiant,” and allowed that we should go ahead with the chemicals. (And if you’re wondering, no, my mother was an English lit major, not a beautician, and the results were somewhat variable. I don’t remember ever having a professional haircut or anything else until I was an adult.)

My first roommate in college had blonde hair so thick that if she wanted to sleep in rollers she had to let her hair get halfway dry first or it might still be damp in the morning when she took it out. This was inconceivable to me! Before the presence of blow dryers in our beautifying lives, she looked at this gorgeous hair as a nuisance as much as an asset.

All I asked was a little wave and more body. Not tightly curly, no, but thick enough to have ripples, that would be my dream. What I have is … not that. I continued to get my hair permed for decades, but I finally gave it up half a dozen years ago and made my peace. I may revisit the question when I bite the bullet and let my hair go white.

We are unique, as a central point of our faith, in believing that one of the principal purposes of this life is to gain a body. The body is not some lesser temporary state that we may earn the right to leave behind, and the resurrection is not a symbolic image but actual and literal. We are taught that having a body was a point of progression, that it actually makes us more like God rather than less like Him. That’s a revolutionary statement.

We live in a culture that often exalts the body in terms of indulgence. We are surrounded by images and encouragements to worship at the altar of the “look,” the glitter of celebrity, the daring of “pushing the envelope” in what we wear, what we do, and what we depict in our entertainment. Substance abuse is the epidemic that we both condemn and surreptitiously envy the lifestyle of wealth and self-gratification that pulls too many talented people into it.

We are given our bodies to learn how to use them to serve our spiritual growth. Their temptations and their capacities are a huge part of our learning process to make choices that will help develop or quash our divine, eternal natures.

When we talk about our true selves, who we are, it’s about our personality, gifts, and drives — the intangibles — not what we look like or how we appear. Those are the elements that come with us from before this earth, coupled with our experiences here.

Our identity is only secondarily from this earth. It is appropriate to be neat and clean and present ourselves well, but not to obsess until not much else gets our attention.

Some people are more wrapped up in their bodies than others. Marathon runners, Olympic athletes, ballet dancers, or mountain climbers are certainly driven to physical challenges and success.

I have neither the ability nor the intense desire to be any of those, and that’s okay. Their immersion in drill, conditioning, trial and performance is okay too. The things some people can do, physically, are a source of wonder and worthy exhilaration. We each find the process of learning discipline and accomplishment in our own way, to master our physical being to serve our spiritual selves, and to learn who we are.

Our physicality is part of our stewardship. It is as false to say the body doesn’t matter at all as it is to say the spirit doesn’t matter at all to pursue the body’s impulses. If our body is to be a temple, it’s not just about the impure things we keep out of it, but how we treat it as the valuable gift it really is.

Several years ago I read one of the first published near-death experiences by one of the first researchers into the phenomenon. This was of a man in a hospital who clinically died and experienced his spirit lifting out of his body and going soaring far above and away. He then felt an urgent pull to return. He panicked because he felt lost, then recognized the luminous ‘thread’ pulling him back and followed it.

I was startled to read that as his spirit self came back into the hospital building he passed anxiously along the pathway, through the rooms, and he could not tell the difference between one body in a bed and the next. He did not recognize himself until he could see that the thread he was following, pulling him along, came from this body and not another.

Surely, all those people were not identical. You and I would immediately know one from another, but he did not. His only awareness was that this was where his spirit, his consciousness, belonged. It was the right one because it was his. I don’t think we’ll care very much what we look like in the next life, only how much light and glory fills us. We will have no problem recognizing each other.

A few days ago, I glanced in the mirror in passing and saw that my hair had fallen in a perfect shape as it had dried, hours earlier, and … I looked good. But as it happened, it didn’t matter at all that day, because I never left the house. Not one other human being laid eyes on me, briefly looking almost perfect. And that’s about the way life goes, and it’s all right.

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