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The Picture of Dorian Gray—In Reverse!

Oscar Wilde’s only novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The title character is a young man who becomes enamored with a hedonistic philosophy of life that finds gratification only in the immediate pleasures of the senses.  Dorian despairs that life it too short to enjoy to the fullest, and as an artist is painting his portrait, Dorian cries out that he will sell his soul if only his youth, beauty, and enjoyment of life can endure.  He gets his wish.

Dorian’s life carries on through the decades, and he abuses and debases himself in virtually every way.  Those whose lives are in orbit around his own find themselves shattered by the way Dorian treats and betrays them.  Strangely, Dorian himself takes on not a blemish.  He remains young, beautiful, energetic, and desirable.

But Dorian notices that the portrait, which he keeps hidden, takes on all the effects wrought by his behavior.  The picture of Dorian Gray becomes a twisted, contorted and perverse reflection of Dorian himself.  As he looks upon it, he sees the true representation of who he has become, no matter how pure he may appear to the outside world.  The Picture of Dorian Gray is a horror story, reminding us that our way of being in the world transforms who we essentially are, no matter how well we may hide it.

God’s promise to us is that when we live by faith, the reverse happens!  In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul says until we know God through the person of Jesus, our understanding of God and of who God has made us to be is cloudy, as though “a veil covers our hearts.”  But when we realize that Christ desires to remake us through his grace, we “with unveiled faces” begin to “reflect the Lord’s glory.” (2 Cor. 315-18, NIV)

Lest we misunderstand the awesome extent of this promise, Paul goes on to say that we “are being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory.”  This is Dorian Gray in reverse.  Despite the fact that our outward appearance ages and takes on the blemishes of experience and time, inwardly we are being remade like Christ himself.  The early Church Fathers called this morphosis.   Through our relationship with God-in-Christ and our lives of faith, the pocks and lines that crease our souls are being smoothed away.  We are being morphed into spiritual creatures that look like the Son of God.

Next time you glance into the mirror, look long and deep.  See not the ravages of age and time.  Let your eyes gaze upon yourself through the light of God’s promise, and see the face of Christ reflected back at you.

– By The Rev. Barkley Thompson, Rector – St. John’s Episcopal Church

St. John’s Episcopal Church is located at the corner of Jefferson Street and Elm Avenue.  Sunday worship is at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 5 p.m.  Look St. John’s up on the web at

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