The Human Face is a Set of Liturgical Conventions

The Internet Monk is told he needs to smile more. Comments follow. I like mine the best:

Everyone is right, of course, to say that an insincere smile is bad, and right that just smiling alot is not a useful goal in itself. But there is a common assumption in all this that is not false but just not true enough — the assumption that your smile is true if you feel happy, false if you do not. No, it’s not always just about you.

Your face, I mean. It’s not just about you. It’s not just an instrument of self-expression; it is also an instrument of community. So a smile can be a sincere liturgical act even when you are inwardly sad. A liturgical act, I mean, in the sense of an authentic ritual performed to make a connection with another person.

WE — we post-evangelicals — have all had such awakenings in recent years that formal, planned acts in worship can not only be real, but can be blessed. The liturgy delivers us from the murk of our own subjectivity — Yeats’ “rag and bone yard of the heart” — into the clear, bracing air of the community. We pray what the church prays. We sing what the church sings. And then, like a grace, we disover we feel what the church feels. The act first, then the feeling.

Why is a smile any different?
We teach children to shake hands, don’t we? We teach them to open doors? Have you ever told your child to “smile at the nice lady, and say thank you”? What would you answer if he replied “I don’t feel it.”? A good father would say “I don’t care. It is an obligation of love. Smile, and mean it.”

In none of this am I defending Joel Osteen, car dealers, or other fake smilers. I hate fake smiles. But these fakers fail in their smiles not for smiling too much, but for smiling too superficial. Think final cause instead of material cause: just like a written, liturgical prayer can be become authentic if the one praying brings his whole intention into the act, so a smile, acted in the face first but sincerely, will lead to its final cause: a connection between persons.

So, maybe, Michael, what the lady at the post office is TRYING to say — admittedly, poorly — is “you are not connecting with me, and I’d like us to connect.”

Jesus smiled on us when we hated Him, and I very seriously doubt He “felt” it.

2 thoughts on “The Human Face is a Set of Liturgical Conventions

  1. Good thoughts.

    I think the lady at the post office has a stereotypical view of preachers, which as I said in the post, is common here in the mountains.

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