Belonging and the Beauty of Ourselves
Letter from Maria Burns
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Dear Beautiful Sister,
Seven years ago, I was in my mid-twenties and paralyzed by the belief that I was unlovable; that if anyone came close enough to see the real me, they would run the other way. Believing that I wasn’t beautiful or good enough to deserve the thing I most desired (belonging) had resulted in self-imposed isolation and a refusal to allow myself to be known. I had built walls around myself so impenetrable, that even those who loved me were kept at arms’ length. Though I adapted an aloof, “I don’t need anyone” attitude around others, I was lonely, heartbroken, and terrified of being seen.
For a long time, nature had been my one sanctuary, my one means to temporarily escape the hopelessness and fear that eclipsed my life.
Nature drew my focus from myself to the beauty that surrounded me, and that shift allowed me to trade my anxiety for wonder, my self-consciousness for reverence of something outside myself.
Unaware as yet that my Creator was pursuing my heart through the beauty in creation, I found myself living in San Diego on the edge of a canyon with trails that wound over sets of steep hills, disappeared into ravines, and emerged under the hot California sun in sandy desert segments. Predictably, I fell in love and soon was coming to know the canyon as if it were my private garden. One seemingly innocuous day, I was watching sunlight filter through a large majestic canyon tree and flit over pungent run-off water. As I watched the light muck about in the dirty water and bring to light previously hidden places under the water’s surface, something similar happened beneath my surface. All at once, something that had been there all along, but unknown to me, came to light; for the first time in my life, I knew that God loved me. I finally saw that the artistry that had been my haven for so long had come from the God. All along, He had been with me, sheltering me with His creation and countless other ways, but now He was inviting me deeper. He was inviting me to find my haven in Him, in His love for me.
For a girl who had been claiming the status “unlovable” for nearly a decade, this was a poleaxing discovery that had me looking to heaven with hope, joy, and a deep desire to know God and follow wherever He might lead me. A month and a half later, I found myself hiking up the opposite end of the canyon, onto the University of San Diego’s campus, and into their Founders Chapel. As I sat engulfed in silence, in a church for the first time in about eight years, the question that I had been holding back spilled forth, unbidden and unplanned. God, I don’t believe that I am beautiful. But what do you think? Is there anything about me that you think is beautiful?
Your heart, I felt Him say.
That answer is no good, I argued with an eye roll. I didn’t want to hear the tired cliché about inner beauty, the beauty of my soul, mattering most. No one believed it, even the people who tossed it about. And even if You’re right God, I went on, how is that relevant to my life? How does that help me find the belonging I so desire? Annoyed and intent on leaving, I began to stand up, only to sit right back down in shock. For up behind the altar, a golden design wound its way towards the ceiling and at its crest, sat a symbol I had only seen in two other places. The first was in a Celtic pamphlet I had been leafing through years prior on the morning I was going to get a long-dreamed of sun tattoo and the second was on my wrist, where the Celtic Triskele had ended up instead of that sun. As I stared transfixed at what I instantly understood to be a symbol for the Holy Trinity, I realized that long before I had even been aware of Him, I had unwittingly branded myself as His; I belong to God and He calls me beautiful.
That unbidden question that day brought me home to the Catholic faith and sparked a quest to discover the truth of beauty.
Over the last seven years, that quest has carried me from the coast of California, to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, into the Amazon Jungle in Peru, home to Ohio where my story began, and to Colorado, where it continues to unfold today. It has been a process of experiencing God as Pure Act, in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Scripture, the Catechism, and Theology would usher truth to my head, but it is experiencing God’s actions that have and continue to carry the truth to my heart.
The search and every little discovery I have been blessed with along the way have resulted in the discovery of my vocation and a profound desire in my heart for you. I yearn for you to know that you are an intricate, unique, and unrepeatable expression of beauty in this world. I pray you discover that beauty is not the key that unlocks belonging in life, but that belonging unlocks the mystery of beauty. When you seek your place in your Father’s heart, He will show you who you are to Him and you will see that His heart is the place you belong above all others.
The Author of Beauty whispered you into being and your beauty is so much more and so much more radical than what the world would have you know.
It is deeply purposed and finds its purpose in the unique plans God has for your life: plans to use your beauty in an extraordinary adventure that invites others into relationship with Him and will carry you home into His arms. He longs to tell the world about Himself through your beauty and is just waiting for you to look to Him to discover it.
What is the beauty that matters most sister? The beauty of your spirit, the beauty of your soul, the beauty of your heart. It is the unfading beauty of a heart set on God, the beauty that gives belonging to others, the beauty that saves. The beauty that matters most is the beauty that God has knit within you and cannot use to change the world without you.
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Get to know Maria
Full name: Maria Burns
Occupation: Operations Manager for Catholicspeakers.com
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Educational background: BS in Business Administration from the University of Dayton
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
It infuses the ordinary with the extraordinary- in work, play, and rest. It shapes my relationships, my community, and helps me to stay present… to rejoice in this day.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday off?
Hiking, soaking up Vitamin D, hanging with family, and a good glass of wine.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you.
Anne Trufant- The owner of a wilderness camp that I worked for, she has taught me more about my identity as a daughter of God and what it means to belong to Him than anyone else in my life.
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: caffeine, prayer, movement
I’m currently obsessed with: all things Colorado… even the rattlesnakes
I feel most inspired when: in solitude surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: allow God to write your story, allow Him to move in your life and take care of the details… ALLOW Him to love you.