Have you seen this man?
His name is Charles de Foucauld, and that is nearly all I know about him.1 Except what is visible in his face, which I will not try to put into words. My mother says that when she saw the picture some years ago, her first thought was: “How did they take a photograph of Jesus?”
It’s clearly Him. This is what Hopkins meant, or part of it, when he said
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.2
This past week I’ve been enjoying the new translation of the Mass. One part stood out particularly: “Welcome them into the light of your face.” I love it. It makes me think of the blessing my father used to give us, the same one Aaron gave his sons:
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the Lord life up his countenance upon you, and grant you peace.3
I’ve heard people wondering whether this is an apt translation — does God have a face? The answer, of course, is yes. God has a face because we have faces; or rather, we have faces because God has one.
When we’re comparing ourselves to God — the fact that we have faces, that we have desires, or that we hunger and thirst — it’s tempting to say: “Yes, that’s true of God, in a metaphorical sense.” The implication is that our faces and our desires are somehow more concrete than their correlatives in God. We, after all, are flesh and bone, and He is only spirit.
No, no, no! We are the ones who are metaphors. Flesh itself is a metaphor. Our faces are symbols of His. Like the prisoners in Plato’s cave, we’ve only ever seen shadows. And more often, shadows of shadows: how often have you met a man whose face burns as brightly as Charles de Foucauld’s? What would it take for your face to look like that?
And if the shadow of God’s face, God’s tenderness, God’s smile, looks like this, what will the reality be like?