I am reminded today of a story I was gifted with long ago called The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin. It is an Algonquin Indian story with parallels to Cinderella and has long been a favorite of mine.
The tale revolves around the Invisible Being, a handsome, wealthy and powerful spirit warrior who lived with his sister in the largest wigwam at the edge of the village. All the village maidens desired to marry him, but in order to be considered must prove they could see him. One by one, his sister invited each maiden into her wigwam and, although they could see the door flap move when he entered and his moccasins appear when he removed them, none of them were able to see the Invisible Being himself. One after another, each woman admitted defeat and returned to her home.
In this same village lived a poor widower with three daughters. His youngest daughter was small and weak and covered in scars from being forced to tend to the cooking fire by her beautiful, but cruel, older sisters. Her arms and face were covered with pockmark burns from the heat and sparks of the flames and her hair was badly singed, hanging about her face in uneven and ragged strands.
One day the two older sisters decided to try their luck at seeing the Invisible Being. They demanded that their father provide them with new dresses and moccasins, taking great care to look their absolute best when they presented themselves to the Invisible Being’s sister. Even though the two sisters could not see the Invisible Being when he entered the wigwam, just like all the others before them, the wicked sisters decided to lie and say that they could. However, the Invisible Being’s wise sister saw their cruel hearts and challenged them to provide details about her brother’s bow and sled. Of course, they were unable to offer accurate descriptions and were forced to return home ashamed.
The next day, the rough-faced girl asked her father for a new dress and moccasins because she had decided to present herself to the Invisible Being’s sister. She told him that her heart could no longer take the strain of seeing the Invisible Being’s face everywhere she looked as she had fallen deeply in love with his spirit.
The father sadly declared that he could give her nothing new. He could only offer her a pair of his old moccasins, which were much too large for her, and some broken shells to string into a necklace. Undeterred, the rough-faced girl stripped birch bark from several dead trees to fashion a dress and leggings, which she then decorated by scraping figures into the bark representing the stars, the sun, the moon and various animals.
Wrapped in her odd garments and walking in the too-large moccasins that made a flapping noise as she walked, the young girl was mocked by the villagers as she made her way toward the edge of town and the Invisible Being’s wigwam. But the rough-faced girl had courage and faith in herself. Her intuitive spirit had enabled her to learn the Invisible Being’s secret.
All along the way she saw the creative force behind nature’s beauty and smiled as the face of the Invisible Being appeared over and over in the sky and in the trees. She could see that he was the spirit warrior behind all of creation and therefore truly was visible everywhere.
Upon reaching the Invisible Being’s sister, she correctly answered all her questions, delighting the sister who led her to the wigwam to await her brother’s return home. The sister’s gaze was the kind that looked deep inside you and she could see past the ill fitting garments, scars, and singed hair, to the beautiful heart that the rough-faced girl possessed.
This time, upon the door flap rising, the rough-faced girl’s eyes danced in greeting as she stared into the Invisible Being’s fully visible face as he entered. He smiled back at her and said, “We have been found out.” Turning to his sister, he stated “Oh, my sister, she is so beautiful!” For he had long been watching her and had fallen in love with her ability to perceive him in all things, even when he was invisible to everyone else. Her kind and loving heart had long ago melted his.
The sister handed the rough-faced girl beautiful, new buckskin garments and moccasins and instructed her to bathe in the river to prepare for her wedding. In doing so, the young girls hair grew back, falling down her back in shiny black waves, and all traces of her scars simply washed away. The beauty that at first was only visible to the Invisible Being and his wise sister was now visible to all the people of the village. The rough-faced girl and Invisible Being were married and lived together in great gladness and were never parted.
This story represents a much deeper lesson, I think, than the stereotypical Cinderella tale. In this story, our heroine falls in love with the Invisible Being’s pure spiritual energy before she ever physically meets him. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Isn’t that a love far superior to that which most of our stories are based on today? In short, it is falling in love with the spark of the Divine that exists within another person.
In a current-day example, this would be like a poet falling in love with a writer by reading her stories or a violinist falling in love with a composer through listening to his music. It is falling in love with that which most accurately depicts a soul’s central and purest core energy. For how can we help but be attracted to someone who shines with the light of their own inner knowing of their place in creation and uses it to light their way forward without reservation or fear?
To be able to participate in the unguarded sharing of one’s true and innermost nature with another cannot help but change both parties forever. Whether this is just for a single moment or for an entire lifetime, whether as strangers, friends or lovers, this is a priceless experience everyone should have. Because when we let our guard down, we allow God to shine through us. And to see God within others is to fall in love with every soul we meet.
Be generous and kind to each other this day. Look past the trappings of the physical world to the spiritual flower of the Divine glowing inside each of us.
If gifted with the blossom of someone’s true inner nature, say, Beautiful! with awe in your voice as you gently admire its unique and fragile beauty before carefully handing it back to them and sharing your own. For there is no greater blessing than truly loving each other for what we are, in that moment, and with no agenda, self interest, or ego.
For in looking at each other in this way, we see God. And in loving each other, we are laying gratitude offerings on God’s altar. And in calling out words of appreciation like marvelous – – exquisite – – transcendent we show our thankfulness for the boundless ways God shows his diversity.
Cinderella found her Prince Charming, but how much more fulfilling to express your love to God through all his different faces. For God is the Invisible Being smiling back at us from the skies, the trees, the animals, and the eyes of every soul we encounter.
Don’t forget to smile back at him, for now you also know his secret.