Muriel, a black-haired freshman girl, had just come into our room to borrow a dress.
"What do you imagine Lucifer looks like?" my roommate Bri asked her. They had both been reading Dante's Inferno and had their minds on such matters.
Muriel called from the closet: "Oh he's Aryan. Tall and blonde with piercing blue eyes." None of us knows how Muriel has become so certain of things so unascertainable. Her quick declarations tickle us to our cores.
Bri contemplated this, then said, "I imagine him very attractive, but with a kind of beauty that's not from the inside."
Bri and I sat on the floor ironing bread into toast, since the student handbook forbids toasters. I did not expect the iron and ideas about Lucifer to combine their heat to produce such an epiphany about beauty.
We hushed for a moment at the dark idea of having no internal beauty, congratulating ourselves for being so unlike the devil.
Bri, Muriel, and I met at this college, by Providence rather than our own design. We got packed with 10 other girls of common faith into a pink hallway lined with pictures of ballerinas. Now we met over Dante, dresses, and ironed toast. This meeting, like many others involving dressing, meant a new opportunity to identify and name beauty in each other.
For as Muriel, meditating on the ballerinas on the wall, once said, "You know, every woman really wants be just like a ballerina-graceful and willowy and beautiful."
Later, out of contempt for mere external beauty, she had schemed to hang a giant portrait of Mother Teresa above her bed to stare down her roommate's enormous Audrey Hepburn on the opposite wall.
Now Muriel eyed herself in the mirror in the purple dress she'd chosen, wanting to know she had some Audrey Hepburn and ballerina mixed in with her Mother Teresa.
Even as college females who value virtue we like to chase the beauty we know is fleeting. We have all the fun of purple dresses, injurious heels, and the suffocating friendship of nylon stockings. We would even, I think, like to pretend to smoke Audrey Hepburn's long cigarette filter or perch upon the ribboning ballet shoes of the women in the hall.
We approach the mirror reciting that warm-bed-in-the-cold-winter psalm: "You knit me together in my mother's womb. I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." We hope such fondness can fall short of vanity. It trumps the self-deprecating, God-contradicting alternative that so often tempts us: If you knit me together, God, you used the big crooked needles.
"You look good in purple," said Bri.
Muriel received the naming with gratitude.
We want the iconic meanings of both nuns and ballerinas: goodness and beauty. If we believe God has made us wonderfully, we can be sure He has, by grace, given us both richly to enjoy.