Have you ever been to a portrait gallery? It’s extraordinary, really: a bunch of people walking around for hours, looking at face after face after face. And do you remember your old class photos? Rows upon rows of faces, staring back at you. And if you’ve ever been to a bureau to get a driver’s license, you have probably noticed the same remarkably consistent pattern—you need your face on a card to get your hands on the wheel.
Indeed, everyone is interested in faces. That peculiar arrangement of symmetrically placed visual and auditory organs with a nasal bump and an oral cavity has a power that captivates us. They engross us because they reveal us to each other. Somehow, our faces “speak” our selves.
Because of this, to have a face is to be open to others, accessible to others, there for the taking, there for the knowing. To find oneself with a face is to discover oneself as a being-for-others, something that is made to be communicated. Every face you see in a portrait gallery or on a driver’s license or in a facebook profile is looking back at you expectantly, waiting to be known and perhaps even desirous of knowing you.
This is why bad guys cover their noses and mouths with bandanas, why the Phantom of the Opera is spooky, and why hostages with black bags over their heads look so dehumanized. To hide one’s face is to hide one’s self. What a desolate world it would be if we all hid our faces. How we would thirst for the sight of a face!
How wondrous it is, then, to walk down a crowded street, to sit at a crowded dinner table, to look through family photo albums. Faces everywhere! Disclosures of selves everywhere! Face after face, revelation after revelation. So many self-disclosing countenances, each of them charged with meaning, desiring to be known, and desiring to know. To live in this world is to be a member of a vast network of faces communicating and revealing to each other.
Part of the joy of heaven will be its faces. Like here, there will be faces everywhere. But our heavenly faces will be lit with the divine light, which will make them brilliantly knowable, and they will shine with the joy of at last being fully known and fully knowing.
But here’s the craziest thing of all. In the midst of this multitude of faces, one of them will bespeak not a finite self, but the Divine Essence. For, strangely enough, our Creator has chosen to enter the great compendium of faces. And we will be quite content to spend an eternity pondering it.
Image: Icon of Christ the Saviour in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai (The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator)