A Mirror of Charity

September 15, 2013


A Mirror of Charity
Between chores –
                                    hulling strawberries
                                    answering letters –
or between poems,
returning to the mirror
to see if I’m there.
(A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov, p.245)
What are these few lines of Denise Levertov trying to communicate?  If a poet or an artist returns to the mirror to see if she ‘is there’, what about us who live monastic life, a life where we strive to be open to the flow of grace, to the Spirit who forms us into a new creation?  Returning to the mirror to see if I am there, to see if I am myself…to see who or what I am serving.  The poetic image of a ‘mirror’:  I like to suggest that this image is a profound symbol or metaphor for the monastic path.  A symbol points to, mediates a reality that is hard to express in our ordinary means of communication.  A symbol has multiple levels of meaning, it communicates the ineffable and offers an entrance into the Divine life.  Our Christian life is full of such symbols and rituals.  With its use by St. Paul in 1 Co 13:12 and 2 Co 3:18, the image of  ‘mirror’ found its way in such ancient Christian writers as Sts. Augustine and Gregory the Great, and later on it was used as well by our Cistercian authors of the 12thcentury.  
“And, we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit (2Co 3:18).  These moving words of St. Paul draw us to return to the ‘mirror’ to see how we are living this quest to see God face to face, to allow the veil covering our hearts and souls to fall away as we are transformed into the One who is the face of God’s love.  In my brief research on the metaphor of ‘mirror’, I learned that it was used in different ways. I was touched by this ONE way that this image was used: both Augustine and Gregory the Great referred to the Bible as a ‘mirror’ in which one could see the “virtues and model of love that would lead one to the experience of Christ” (Bernard Mc Ginn, The Growth of Mysticism, p.348).  In other words, Scripture was seen as a mirror where we can get a sense of our relationship to God.  It is interesting to note that Augustine at the end of his life wrote a book entitled: De Scriptura sacra speculum (Scripture: A Sacred Mirror).  Fr. Charles Dumont in his introduction to Aelred of Rievaulx’s The Mirror of Charity quotes these words of Gregory the Great:  “Holy Scripture is offered to the eyes of our soul like a mirror.  In it, we can see our interior countenance.  There we see our ugliness and our beauty.  There we become conscious of our advancement.  There, of our total lack of progress” (CF-17, p.49).  What Aelred does in his book II of The Mirror of Charity (and apparently he is following St. Augustine), is he gathers together twenty-five New Testament texts and presents them to his readers so that “one may contemplate as in a mirror the countenance of his soul more carefully” (p.51).  Aelred’s point is that Scripture enables us to see the countenance of our soul: where we need change and conversion, and the light of truth reflected by the mirror can even reveal the cause of our sin or problem.
In reflecting on the use of the ‘mirror’ metaphor in Aelred, Charles Dumont quotes Soren Kierkegaard who warns against approaching the Word of God as ‘doctrine’ or as an ‘impersonal thing’.  Kierkegaard writes: “Because if the Word of God is simply a doctrine for you, an impersonal thing, objective, it is not a mirror….And if you observe an impersonal attitude toward the Word of God, one could not say that you look at yourself in its mirror, because this act requires a person….No, when you read the Word, you should constantly  say to yourself: it is to me that it is addressed; it means me” (p.54).  Kierkegaard is very much in line with how both Augustine and Aelred used the metaphor of ‘mirror’ in relation to how the Word of God addresses us.
Letting the veil drop…even for a moment, simply to see if I am there for God, for one another.  The ‘mirror’: the mirror of charity: “In this mirror of charity, one’s likeness to charity will appear only to one who abides in charity, just as no one sees his face reflected in a mirror unless he is in the light,” writes Aelred (p.54).  Let us look into the mirror…the mirror of charity to see how or if we are abiding in charity.  Let us look into the mirror of faith to see how strong is our ‘mustard seed of faith’.
Between chores –
                                    hulling strawberries
                                    answering letters –
or between poems,
returning to the mirror
to see if I’m there.


Sr Kathy DeVico

September 15, 2013 Back to Chapter Talks
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