Imperturbable smiles are pitiable things, somewhat reminiscent of the Little Prince’s rose who took naive delight in her four thorns, unjustifiably proud of the one thing that made her vulnerable—and laughable; or of Voltaire’s Candide always optimistically re-interpreting the facts to fit fancy. These smiles smile about everything. Is it raining? Smile. Is it morning? Smile. Did a baby just die? Smile. Is the globe warming? Smile. Is it cooling? Smile. Smile. Smile. Smile.

I met such a smile in a coffee shop the other day. It blithely rested below a pair of earnest Asian eyes and tried to look comfortable balancing itself above an intensely casual body. The smile met my glance without wavering, swelling slightly as if to assure itself it really was there.

“Tell me,” it asked, imperceptibly moving aside while the lips phrased the question, “what are you reading?”

“The Proverbs of Solomon—have you heard of them?”

“No, I haven’t. I never read the Bible but I’ve heard it is nice. What does it say?” The smile remained—expectant—never doubting that the answer would be as nice as it was. After all, doubt isn’t feasible when standing in the presence of a smile, right?

“Men are fools and reject Wisdom, even though they could have her and have life. It says that many men are trapped and ensnared by sweet lips and honeyed voices that lead to the destruction of the soul.”

“Oh?”

The lips quivered. What were those wrinkles forming around the corners of the mouth?

“Yes. It also says that one must know the purpose of life in order to live well; ends don’t justify but rather determine the means. This knowledge comes from knowing God: knowing God and fearing Him.”

I watched the smile with interest. Those wrinkles, did they hint at internal tension? Confusion? Conflict? The awareness of something not nice?

“Hmm,” the smile drew itself out and relaxed again. “I like life, and I like what you say because I, too, believe in God.”

No, the wrinkles were only the beginnings of dimples. The smile remained, unmoved.

“Do you? Why is that?” It is always wise to question smiles, especially if one expects they are groundless. A true smile expands to welcome a wise question, a false smile fades. Groundless smiles are completely unaffected.

The smile continued. “I look at the world and see God. I look at myself and see God. I look at others and see God. I like God. What do you think, is God male or female?”

“Uh…hmm, well, umm,” my brow furrowed at the non-sequitur. “I think God is masculine. He created mankind in His image, male and female He created them. The female is also made in the image of God so He can’t be male, strictly speaking, nor can he be female. He must contain them both, somehow.”

“Yes…created in God’s image. I like that.” The smile lapsed in on itself, almost smiling at it’s own answer; it meant that it had created God in it’s image. A groundless God. A God that simply was…and was nice. The smile continued to smile. There was nothing else to do.

I understood. Androgyny melded nicely with groundlessness; it was a simple combination of things and avoided any sort of differentiation. This was important, necessary really, since difference made a perpetual and unperturbed smile impossible.

“There really is only one, right?” One what? One gender, one God, one thing, One…

Apparently there was only one smile.

“I mean, we’re all going the same way.” Smile. “Wisdom is One. Goodness is One.” Smile. “We are One.” Smile.
“No. There is one way that is radically different. Many are the paths that lead to destruction, but only one way leads to life.”

The smile didn’t change. How could I make this clear?

“Wisdom says that man is more than ignorant; he is purposefully deaf and blind. You, you are blind. You lie to yourself and choose folly.” Surely there was little enough to smile about now. Surely the smile would become angry, or at least ruffled.

“…oh, I see.”

At last.

“Wisdom says that man is more…he is purpose…You, you are. You yourself choose.”

I shook my head, sadly. The smile only had itself, only heard itself; it was it’s own worst enemy.

Sometimes smiles aren’t very nice.

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Posted by Tex

One Comment

  1. Tex,
    Thanks for the objectivity regarding the niceness in our culture. Too often we Christians associate niceness with giving the gospel to others; so we smile and utter nice platitudes without ever telling the whole story, from original sin to resurrection life in Christ.
    Yet there is something behind that plastic smile, behind all plastic smiles that should evoke our compassion. Postmodern society likes to cover its despair with a veneer of tolerance, relaxation and an “everything’s cool” attitude, but it is just a coating. And if the philosophy of our age breeds shallow people, I believe it does so because it first bred despair in their hearts. Yet a person or a civilization can only live without hope for so long; both will immediately die, or decide to prolong their torment with flimsy self-assurances such as smiles. A smile becomes the alternative to suicide. But don’t inquire how it answers the question.
    So perhaps we should see in these smiles a person, or civilization that has lost hope. And may God give us courage, like you, to confront them with a dare to hope.

    Reply

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