Monday, May 9, 2022

The Beauty in You by Reverned Tom Capo


Author: Paulo Coelho

A young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it.

But an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said,

“Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”

The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. The young man looked at the old man’s heart and laughed.

“You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine … mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”

 “Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love….. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them … and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges.

” Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away … and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges … giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too … and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”

The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man.

The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart.

It fit …. but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges.

The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his. 


I was all set to write this sermon and then the Roe vs. Wake draft paper from the Supreme Court was published on Politico.  Then I felt that sick twisted feeling in my gut and I had trouble reading the news.  I just couldn’t believe it.  And the rationale used to nullify Roe v Wade could be used to nullify so many other rights like marital equality and contraceptive medication.  How could I possibly talk to you about the beauty in you, when it so hard for me to find beauty in the world right now?  Then I realized that it is even more important to find, see, experience beauty in times of trial, trauma, and stress, for beauty, particularly the beauty in you, is about resilience, is about love, is about grounding, and those are what I need, maybe what you need.

            When you say to yourself, there is beauty in me, what response do you hear from yourself?  Yes, there is, and I am proud of it.  No, there isn’t, I have so many thoughts and feelings that are mean and destructive, there is no beauty in me. Or maybe you tell yourself this: I am such a mix of loving and wonderful, as well as mean and destructive thoughts and feelings I am not sure if there is beauty in me.  Or you may have any number of other responses.  When you heard the story of the young man with the beautiful perfect heart and the old man with the scarred heart, did you resonate?  I certainly did.  My heart is full of scars with many jagged edges.  I have given love and not received it back.  I have been given love from unexpected places and added it to my heart.  I have given and received love, knowing that the love I received is not, and will never be a cookie-cutter copy of the love I have given, leaving my heart jagged and uneven.  To expect the love I receive to be exactly the same as the love I give is transactional and only invites future resentment, hurt, and pain into my heart.  Let me say that again: to expect the love I receive to be exactly the same as the love I give is transactional and only invites future resentment, hurt, and pain into my heart.  That’s not to say I haven’t been hurt by giving love, I think we all have, but at least for me, giving love, particularly when I am able to give love without expectation of getting love in return, well that’s part of the beauty in me.  I am human, far from perfect, but I know I have a generous supply of love within me, so when I show love, care for, or express compassion toward another person, it’s authentic, and authenticity is beautiful.  I know the risks of loving; I think we all do.  I can feel the scars in my heart.  And yet, the scars make my heart beautiful, at least to me.  The risks taken, the uneven responses, even the hurt, are part of a sometimes terrible beauty.  It’s certainly part of my beauty.

            I mentioned last week that I worked with patients who had eating disorders, in fact I was the director of an inpatient and outpatient eating disorders clinic.  All of these patients had body dysmorphia.  They perceived their bodies very differently from the ways their bodies actually were, in most cases experiencing their bodies as much larger than they actually were.  This perception results in destructive eating, destructive exercise, and unhealthy routines which ultimately interfere with the person’s ability to function – in ways that are healthy psychologically, socially, and physically.  I bring this dysfunction up because I want to talk about one of the treatment strategies I’ve used.  I ask the patient to find beauty somewhere in their bodies with a final goal of finding beauty in themselves. I would start this by having the women lie down on butcher paper for a body tracing.  This was a first step to confronting the dysmorphia.  Then I ask them to color in the parts of their body that were beautiful.  I can remember one young woman who struggled to find anything beautiful about herself.  I literally had to ask her about almost part of her body to help her find a part that she found beautiful.  She came up with her ear lobe.  Just one ear lobe.  So I asked her to color in her ear lobe on the butcher paper.  It took her many weeks to find more parts of herself that she considered beautiful.  Very slowly she was able to color in her whole ear, after several more weeks her nose.  As she found beauty in her body, she was more willing to accept that she might have beauty within her.  She accepted that her artistic abilities were unique and special; that she expressed whole hearted love for her parents; that she had made a positive difference in the lives of other patients, helping them as they too came to grips with their disorder.

            I tell you this story because sometimes, perhaps many times, we don’t see the beauty in ourselves.  Perhaps because of what people have said to us, perhaps due to experiences we have had, and most often because we don’t take the time to look deep within, with an affirming spirit, to find the beauty within ourselves.  Many people don’t think about the beauty within themselves or how that beauty is expressed in how they live their lives.  When was the last time you looked for the beauty within you?  Have you ever?  How often have you consciously, intentionally nurtured that beauty?  I am not talking about being narcissistic, but about having and nurturing a positive self-image and positive self-esteem. 

            If you don’t have a positive self-image or a positive self-esteem, how might that affect your resilience?  How vulnerable are you to the challenges and trauma and the stresses of the world when you are unaware of the beauty in you?  How much power do you cede to those around you, power over your well-being, power over your self-image, power over your self-care when you don’t have a positive self-esteem? 

            I am not going to advise you to go look in the mirror and say to yourself “You are so beautiful to me.” Or to do a body tracing and color in the parts of you that are beautiful.  But I am wondering how you might affirm and nurture the beauty within in, so that you empower yourself, so that you ground your decisions within yourself rather than allow people or circumstances to overly impact them, so that you like and even love yourself, consciously, intentionally, regularly express love for yourself, and so that you can experience the beauty in you. 

            I am going to invite you to take a risk in a moment, to say out loud something that is beautiful in you. If you’re watching this online, think about what you’d like to write in the chat. It might be a creative spirit, a loving heart, a bright mind; it might be a willingness to learn from your mistakes or to forgive the mistakes of others.  I don’t know what beauty you find in yourself.  Before we do that, I invite you to close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Focus on your breathing.  Don’t worry if you are having a racing mind.  Just keep gently keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.   I don’t want you to struggle to find beauty within you, just keep breathing, and pay attention to what you experience when I say there is beauty in you.   There is beauty within you.  There is beauty within you. Now I invite you to say one aspect of the beauty within you.  Online folks, say something in the chat.

            You can open your eyes.  I invite you to hold onto this connection with the beauty in you.  And I am going to re-read the chalice lighting words.  I wonder if these words might feel different as you hold onto that beauty in you.


I need you to know

that there is nothing

wrong with you, if you

find the world congealed

and unwieldy. You were

never meant to serve money,

to give loyalty to unprincipled

power, to spend your joy

frantically soothing yourself

in order to tend wounds

of being constantly

dehumanized. I need you

to know that your sense

of injury and anger is not

overdeveloped. You are meant

for love and beauty. You belong

where you are known and

where your future is not just a

resource, but a promise, which

you begin to fulfill by being

unmistakably, irrevocably


—you are not wrong.

            Stay connected to the beauty in you.  And find more.  Affirm more.  Nurture more.  And notice how that empowers you.  How much better you feel about being you.  May we believe the Truth about ourselves no matter how beautiful it is!

Why do I think birds are more beautiful than worms? by Reverned Tom Capo

Why do I think a bird is more beautiful than a worm might seem like a silly question on the surface; of course, birds with their multiple colors and plumage, flying effortlessly across the sky seem infinitely more beautiful than a slimy brown worm mucking around in the dirt.  As I started thinking about Nurturing Beauty, this month’s worship theme, I started really wondering how and possibly why we think some things are beautiful and others are not?  Is it purely cultural?  Is it only about external characteristics?  And I wonder what is the impact of what we each chose to define as “beautiful” on our psyches, our social lives, and our spiritual/ethical journeys.

Let me share a few images with you.  These are random images when I pulled up the word beautiful on Google.  Do you think this one is beautiful?  Why?

I want to invite a couple of you to come up to the microphone and share your thoughts.  And those on you online, please put your thoughts in the chat.

How about this one?

            It is curious to me that what is considered beautiful can vary significantly from one person to another.  Martha and I often watch television in the evenings, mostly streaming movies and shows.  As we watch, Martha might say something about how beautiful a person or place or a scene is.  More often than not I say something like: “I don’t see it.” “I don’t think that person, place, or scene is beautiful” or “It or they don’t do much for me.” Whether we are talking about the shape of a nose or curvature of cheeks or chin, or the expanse of a prairie or the ruins of an ancient civilization, or the love scene between two people who finally come together after much turmoil.  “It’s okay”, as Martha is moved to tears by the beauty.  I don’t know if you have had this experience with someone in your life, but it happens to me with some regularity. 

            Right now I wondering if I probably should have called this sermon “Why I think worms are more beautiful than birds?”  You see when I was young, I found black racer snakes and alligator snapping turtles and worms beautiful and interesting—fun to watch and learn about.  I don’t think my mother or really any mother of any son understood a young boy’s obsession with these kind of things.  And as a young boy, I don’t remember ever looking at birds or flowers or girls as being beautiful.  Perhaps this was part of being raised in a culture with very defined ideas of what ought to be masculine and feminine areas of interest. 

            In our white supremacist culture, beauty, as stereotypes go, is often associated with the feminine stereotype.  Two of the definitions of beauty in the Microsoft Bing dictionary are: “1. denoting something intended to make a woman more attractive: and 2. a beautiful woman.”  Women are judged by their beauty, accused of using their beauty, and even scapegoated because of their beauty.  And what is considered beautiful for women in this culture is a moving target—what is considered beautiful today, will be considered dull, drab or repulsive tomorrow.  Plastic surgeons make a fortune because of this.

            I worked as the director of an outpatient and inpatient eating disorders clinic for a number of years.  I have seen what this obsession with beauty has done to women’s psyches, how it has destroyed their health, their relationships, and on occasion led to their death.  One of my woman friends, who was a psychiatrist, died from the complications of an acid peel to her face, which she did to erase some of the wrinkles from aging.  She was obsessed with getting rid of them, because young is beautiful, right? 

          I have to say when I consider beauty, I am aware that I’ve been taught by our culture to default to women’s beauty, but instead most often I associate beauty more with the intangible quality of love.  The people I love as the most beautiful people in my life. 

            How do you define beauty?  What comes to mind when you think about the word beautiful?  Knowing what you consider beautiful and why you think that can impact how you treat yourself, others, and your body, can influence what you buy and what medical treatments you choose to have.  Wikipedia says: “Beauty is commonly described as a feature of objects that makes these objects pleasurable to perceive. Such objects include landscapes, sunsets, humans and works of art.”  The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the first definition of beauty as: “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else [such] (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

            What happens when you think outside the beauty box?  You heard physicist Richard Feynman say: “I see much more about the flower than he [my artist friend] sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? … All kinds of interesting questions in which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

            Feynman has a very different understanding of beauty – not just the external aspects of an object or person or creature or plant.  I hear him connecting beauty with what is interesting, fascinating, mysterious, even with smaller dimensions, inner structures, and processes, qualities that in themselves are not visible to the naked eye except as part of the resultant whole.  These characteristics and the questions they elicit only add the beauty.  You may not think of the worm itself as beautiful, but think of what it does. It enriches the soil, it aerates the soil, providing the optimum growing conditions for plants. The worm can be thought of as a type of inner structure, a small dimension or process, a critical component that has to happen in order for the beautiful flowers or vegetables or trees to happen--the visible beauty we bask in?  Give thanks for the worms you don’t see, contributing their part to the whole.

            I have developed a deeper appreciation of works of art, mostly abstract or modern art, because it makes me wonder.  Abstract art is the kind of art that emphasizes the use of non-representational forms to create meaning and reality — meaning that it doesn’t necessarily represent objects in the physical environment, like the sun, trees, or people. I find the most beautiful pieces are those that evoke something emotional or spiritual, pieces that I have to step back from and look at a few times, to let sink in.  What was the artist trying to portray?  What is the artist expecting that I will see?  What is the history of this art or what were the cultural or societal influences on this artist?  How do my life experiences impact what I perceive or understand about this piece?  Often I consider an abstract piece of art like Zen Buddhist Koan—causing me to go beyond my rational logical thinking to my intuitive, insightful, enlightened inner self.  Sometimes a particular piece of art might even elicit a feeling of being connected to something larger than myself. 

Have a look at this piece of art from the Rubell Museum.  Notice how it impacts you or what it elicits in you, if anything.  Notice as you consider it does your rational or logical mind seem to make meaning?  Does your deeper self make another, different meaning?  Examine what might be in the gap between your rational experience and your ineffable experience.  What’s there?

            And so I wonder what beauty I might nurture.  The beauty of the external world?  I think there is value in that, creating art, growing flower gardens, keeping beautiful natural places available to people for generations.  But I also know the danger in external beauty, particularly for women with bulimia, anorexia, with women being harassed, raped, objectified, monetized.  How about beauty in the unseen world?  Like scientific discoveries in quantum physics, string theory, and microscopic organisms. Like worms underground. 

The philosopher Plato said beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Nurturing beauty is also about understanding yourself. About recognizing that our white supremist society and our negative life experiences may influence what we define as beautiful.  But we still have choices.  We can recognize those times when what we consider to be beautiful might in fact be destructive to us or someone else—like an obsession about always looking young.  We can recognize those times when what we consider beautiful might perpetuate binary gender stereotypes or racial stereotypes.  We can recognize those times when what we consider beautiful could be superficial and ultimately emotionally and spiritually unsatisfying.  You know, now that I think about, perhaps I should have named this sermon “Who do I think that both worms and birds are beautiful?”

            What I invite you to consider about beauty and nurturing beauty is this: explore, consider, reflect on, learn, go deeper.  External beauty is fine, but remember that sometimes it is a superficial quality.  A sunrise might be beautiful, but what happens when that sunrise is more than the image on your eyes.  What if it touches something deeper in you?  What if you consider the mystery and wonder in how the sunrise came to be?  What if you open yourself to the universe that the sunrise is part of?  What if you let the sunrise be your own anti-intellectual Koan, moving you to possible insight, intuition, or enlightenment.  Beauty can be so much more than is on our eyes, if we but open yourselves to what it might offer.

A Unitarian Universalist Easter? by Reverend Tom Capo


I attended an Open House at the Kendall Mosque last week and broke the Ramadan fast after evening prayer with the members of that faith community.  As I watched the prayers, I thought of how we, Unitarian Universalists, draw wisdom and spirituality from sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience.  And the world’s religious and spiritual traditions offer much to us as we search for truth and meaning.  The stories/myths they offer, are rich for those seeking meaning and purpose from their own life experiences and for those seeking discernment about how to live an ethical and/or spiritual life.  In some ways Unitarian Universalists are fortunate to draw from so many diverse traditions, but I believe we can get lost in so many traditions, so many philosophies and experiences.  It is easy to accept the superficial and cultural meanings given to us about the stories/myths, histories/philosophies, science/poetry, rather than delve more deeply into one or two.  I tend to believe it is better to go deeper into a few stories/myths than stay in the shallow end of the philosophical or spiritual of the pool with the many.  I also think there is value in revisiting a few stories/myths each year in order to notice how we have changed, how our meanings, beliefs, values have changed after a year of living through whatever has been thrown at us.

          As we explore Easter for instance, we might examine at how early Christians responded to, studied, and incorporated this story into their lives to discern how to live their values in the world.  Or we might look at how the teachings of Easter changed in the 9th century focusing on Jesus hanging on the cross and the symbolism of his death.  We might focus on how many of the practices and images we associate with Easter, eggs and bunnies and spring, come from Pagan traditions--Some historians believe Easter eggs came from Anglo-Saxon festivals in the spring to celebrate pagan goddess Eostre. The goddess, who may or may not be the namesake of Easter, represented the dawn in spring, and eggs were buried—sort of like our Easter eggs hunts where we hide and seek colored eggs--and then the eggs were eaten during the festival.

          I want to share another quote from Rev. Myke Johnson: “Decolonization is about learning the stories of our history, and rejecting the beliefs and practices that involve domination, conquest, and subjugation. But decolonization also includes uncovering the liberating threads we might find in the midst of the forces of domination. The stories of the early Christians around a communal shared meal are stories that give me hope.”

          So how do we decolonize the many religious and spiritual traditions, including our own, to uncover the liberating threads we might find amidst the forces of domination. Well, lets start with Easter, because after all today is Easter.  I ask you for a moment to consider what stories, feelings, beliefs that you hold about Easter.  (pause)  Where do these come from?  Why do you hold onto them?  What images and traditions do you affirm or practice in your life about this Christian holy day?  (pause) Why do you affirm or practice them?  Cultural pressure?  Joyful play?  Positive memories from your past?   I hope you share some of your thoughts with each other at lunch after the service.

          I think the place to start on any journey is within one’s self.  Let me start with Easter Egg Hunts.  These were a joyful experience in my household.  It was never clearly explained why we had Easter Egg Hunts or how they related to our Catholic beliefs, but hunting eggs, eating chocolate eggs and bunnies were ingrained into our lives.  My mother still colors Easter Eggs and finds someone to hunt them.  She is having difficulty finding anyone to hunt them now that we are all adults and our kids are all adults—no grandkids yet.  She told me that she was going to get my 26-year-old nephew’s new girlfriend to hunt them this year because she is new to the family.

          Today as I reflect on this egg-centric tradition, I think about some of the research about its origins, from the Pagan tradition and I smile.  I no longer have to twist my mind around trying to make sense of egg hunting and eating chocolate bunnies from a Catholic point of view.  I can embrace this tradition with its feasting and affirmation of spring from its “genuine historical roots.”  And I can celebrate “our blue green planet earth, resurrected anew each spring.”

          In addition to not having to twist my mind around, I no longer have to accept some of the Christian beliefs and practices that involve domination, conquest, and subjugation.” Growing up in a Catholic church, each time I entered the sanctuary I saw the enormous cross with a giant Jesus nailed to it.  He was crowned with wicked-sharp thorns, and a long stab wound in his side.  This cross hung prominently over the altar.  I never ever had positive affirming feelings about that cross with the dead Jesus on it.  I remember visiting a Catholic church in New Mexico; inside it was a life size crypt with Jesus in it, cut, bloody and dead.  The focus on Jesus’ torment and death is not a story I choose to go deeper into.  At least for me, the focus on the death is more about domination and subjugation than celebration and joy.

However, the story of a resurrection, well that is something that is something I can relate to.  Not death and resurrection to absolve all people of original sin—that was not part of the early Christian beliefs—but a resurrection of paradise on earth.  I see that each spring as plants green and flowers blossom and creatures return—I am particularly fond of the return of fireflies on spring nights.  I can also relate to the story whenever I am going through a very painful time in my life.  When my father died for instance, I had hope that I would make it through that time, that I would feel alive again and fully re-engage with life after a period of intense morning and loss, in a sense feeling dead inside.  There are certainly other rebirth stories that offer me hope, in which I experience this process of emotional death and resurrection, universal stories about a very human condition that we have all experienced and probably will experience again.  This makes sense to me.  This way of experiencing this Christian myth and re-experiencing it each year as Easter rolls around, is an emotional touchstone for me.

As I consider what I hold onto about the Easter story and what I let go of, I invite you to do the same.  It is unnecessary to throw the baby—in this case Easter—out with the bathwater—all the troublesome beliefs and traditions surrounding Easter.  Explore what has meaning for you and what brings you joy this time of the year.   Consider what stories or myths resonate with you and go deeper into them.  Maybe you, like the early Christians, will find in the story of Jesus’ resurrection an affirmation that love is stronger than empire, and that heaven is possible, at least occasionally and at times briefly, here on earth, not in some afterlife.

I end with a portion of the Christian Easter story, when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus after his resurrection.  As you listen, notice what you resonate with, what you want to explore more deeply.  Don’t look for what you reject and don’t want to bring into your life, you probably already know all about that.  (John 20) "11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, 'Why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, Rab-bo′ni!' (which means Teacher). [as she recognized him]."