Most of us know the story now. A middle-aged woman with an intellectual disability got on the stage at a televised talent show organized by a man known for his cruel remarks. She was portly, frumpy, beetle-browed. The judges asked her about herself. She said she had never been kissed and sulked in a would-be flirtatious way. She shook her hips suggestively. The audience, used to a parade of no-hopers, rolled their eyes. (At home, watching on the internet, I rolled my eyes, too.) And then Susan Boyle sang.
Was this astonishing about-face spontaneous or a set-up engineered by an entertainment genius? I don't know. I don't think it matters. Susan Boyle touched thousands of people by overturning their expectations. She could really sing. She opened her unkissed lips and beauty poured out.
We can learn two things from this astonishing televised event:
1. People judge a book by its cover.
2. People shouldn't judge a book by its cover.
Susan Boyle intrigues me because she shows the world not only that lifelong Singles have a lot to offer, but that there ARE lifelong Singles, including women (and men) who have not married because they have a social, physical, mental or intellectual handicap of some kind.
The reaction of the world to the purity of Boyle's voice versus the oddity of her appearance intrigues me because of this passage from Isaiah:
See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
--so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance--
so he shall startle many nations...
...[H]e had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces,
he was despised and we held him of no account.
(Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:2b-3)
Christians recognise Isaiah's Suffering Servant as a prefiguring of Christ. And Susan Boyle, who surprised us all, reminds me of the surprise of the Suffering Servant and the surprise of the Baby Jesus. Few expected the Messiah to come as a little baby, born to a carpenter's wife. And nobody expected God to take on human flesh. The expectations of people like Peter, like James and John, were completely overthrown. And I wonder if somewhere, deep in our Christian and post-Christian psyches, we all caught a glimpse of Christ in a homely singer from Scotland.
And that is why I have decided that the Seraphic Single for this week, the week in which Christmas falls, should be the expectation-overthrowing Susan Boyle (b. 1961).