Reflections on a Mirror
Do not merely listen to the word [of God], and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. [James 1:22-24 (NIV)].
Can we detect holiness in the mirror? Are there cosmetics that can enhance sanctity?
The perception we have of ourselves does not provide a clear image of our piety. Our vanity is an obstacle to self-knowledge. Moreover, it is self-delusion and arrogance to claim holiness for oneself.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. [Isaiah 5.21].
Self-love inflates our pride into thinking we are being devout, when, in reality, we are far astray. We ascribed purity to our actions, and smear conceit all over our soul.
The heart is the intersection of God’s grace with humanity’s essence …the heart unifies the spiritual and material worlds. Our inner and outer beauties are in fact different dimensions of the life of our heart, and the radiance of our appearance is intimately tied to our inner life. When a word is spoken from the heart, the mind is ignited and our consciousness glows like the corona of the sun. [Fethullah Gülen].
Mirror of Our Appearance
Who’s the fairest? When we look at ourselves in a mirror, we can recognize the aspects of our physical appearance that demand our attention. Whether young, anxiously appealing to the opposite sex, middle-aged, noting wrinkles and gray hairs, or in old age, scanning for signs or symptoms of illness and disease, we are vigilantly aware of our physical condition and the care it requires.
Our concerns may result in a dietary change, avoiding foods that produce skin blemishes, lead to weight gain or, reportedly, cause disease. Perhaps, more physical exercising may be in order, or perhaps rest. So we regularly examine, prescribe and medicate ourselves.
Every day you provide your bodies with good to keep them from failing. In the same way your good works should be the daily nourishment of your hearts. Your bodies are fed with food and your spirits with good works. You aren’t to deny your soul, which is going to live forever, what you grant to your body, which is going to die. [St. Gregory the Great].
Mirror of Our Intellect
Who’s smarter? From our earliest memories, we have been concerned with increasing our intellectual abilities. Whether through academic and technological training, creative pursuits, or simply by accumulation of common sense, we try to improve our mental acumen to cope with personal needs and social obligations.
We read, we travel, we rehearse, we even regulate our diet to maximize our intellect by eating “brain foods.” We do as much as we can to increase our knowledge and understanding.
Pride moves us to bow down before a mirror rather than before God … Pride means not only that we want to be smart and wealthy, but also that we will not be satisfied until we are smarter and wealthier than those around us. [John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People].
Mirror of Our Character
Most of us have some concerned for our spiritual state. Whether based on formal religious schooling, or socially acceptable psycho-ethical behavior, we grow up knowing that a sacred aspect of reality exists and that it deserves reverence and respect.
Unfortunately, compared to our efforts to achieve physical and intellectual growth and advancement, we dedicate only casual attention and care to our spiritual development.
Few parents long that their children become holy men and women, dedicating their lives to God. Ivy League graduations, All-American athletic honors, professional careers, all enjoy greater prestige than ordination, initiation or just simple dedication to the spiritual life.
We admire the recognition showered on athletes and entertainers, and on entrepreneurs and scholars, subconsciously noting how few worldly rewards are offered for piety and spiritual devotion
But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. [1 Corinthians 13:9-12].
By removing much that is excessive, extraneous and petty in our daily affairs, fasting can provide clearer insight into our inner thoughts. When effective, it provides light to the darkened soul, helping to expose our deepest emotions to the scrutiny of our conscience, and allowing a glimpse into our true self.
The key to lasting happiness and real pleasure in this world is not found in seeking gratification, but in pleasing God. And while the Lord desires that we enjoy His gifts and the people to whom we are joined, He wants us to know that we were created first for His pleasure. [Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, p. 93].
To make significant and lasting change to our personality, we must not only acknowledge the spirit, but we must cultivate and fortify it. We can even argue that the spirit should be the primary focus of our attention.
In any event, we must recognize, develop and nourish piety, if we truly believe that the state of our spiritual life bears a heavy portion of success or failure in our existence.
How do you measure such success? A smile, a small act of kindness, a pleasant word can dispel gloom and spark cheerfulness that ignites a new friendship — or even a new life.
Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, the image you perceive will also be flawless. But should you look upon your fellow man and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering — you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself. [Baal Shem Tov].
Our Soul in the Mirror
Insight into what we reflect in a mirror requires that we remain conscious of God. Our inner struggle can never be won on physical or intellectual grounds, but only in the realm of spiritual awareness. It can be easily lost, if only the mind and body are cultivated while the spirit is neglected and ignored.
The pure heart is the best mirror for the reflection of Truth. So all these disciplines are for the purification of the heart. As soon as it is pure, all truths flash upon it in a minute. [Sri Sathya Sai Baba].
Our reflection in the mirror is more than body and clothes. A completely healthy image reflects intimate cognizance of the Divine Reality. We can mold and manipulate them physically, but the soul can only be awakened, stimulated and nurtured by sacred enthusiasm. It requires a pious awareness and devout consciousness of God.
. . . all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory!” [Quran 3:190-191].