Inspired by St. Clare, Jennifer Lindberg ponders how looking in a mirror isn’t about vanity but living the spiritual life.
Gaze upon Him, reflect on Him, contemplate Him, and desire to imitate Him. (St. Clare of Assisi)
When St. Clare of Assisi looked into a mirror, she didn’t see herself. Instead, she saw the Image she was made into – that of Christ. St. Clare was learning to see the soul behind the face in the mirror.
Clare believed people saw Christ when looking at how she and her cloistered nuns lived their life. It’s a daring claim for a group of women who rarely left the convent. How does one’s life reflect Christ is no one sees it? How does one meditate on Christ when looking at your own face in the mirror?
I feel St. Clare’s teaching deep as a mother. I can go days without seeing anyone except those entrusted to me in my home. If I do see people it is through car windows as I drive away from dropping kids off at various appointments or getting my grocery order from the store's curbside-pickup area.
Clare is the saint for my motherhood lately, a firm reminder that God sees me in my motherhood journey alone at home washing dishes, folding laundry, and sometimes silently crying when the day goes wrong and I don’t want to alarm the children. I learned long ago that lack of sleep, busy schedules that cannot be simplified some weeks – no matter how hard you try -- can cause the tears to flow. You feel like the ordinary tasks in life go unappreciated, but St. Clare says this is when your light shines the brightest. She said this is when to look into the mirror and see beyond yourself.
Mothers have their own type of enclosure in the sanctity of their home life. In the candlelit morning hours, you try to read your Bible -- and then the baby cries or the toddler comes to cuddle. You blow out the candle so no one gets burned, open your arms wide, and know you won’t get the Bible opened again that day. Maybe one verse was read and you can ponder it in your heart before making breakfast and checking off the to-do boxes.
It’s here in these moments that St. Clare says is a witness to the world. It doesn’t matter if anyone sees you. It doesn’t matter if you fill stadiums with your speaking engagements, get a raise, or have the cleanest house ready for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot. What matters is that God sees you reflecting Him in your piety with your tiny sacrifices at home, or big ones. He sees you teaching your children the Hail Mary and telling your kids for the 100th time to brush their teeth and change their socks. God sees you instructing your sons in how to be gentleman, opening the door for their sisters, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ God sees you instructing your little girls in the art of femininity – that they are the worthy daughters of a King – and how to be polite and how to know their worth as a woman. And somehow all this draws the light of Christ that reflects out into the whole world. St. Clare tells us to look deep at ourselves and be filled.
She uses the mirror as a metaphor for the spiritual life. We look into the mirror every day. Sometimes, we see its toll on our life – the wrinkles, the puffy eyes from lack of sleep, or those great hair days when we feel and look fabulous! Yet, St. Clare says to use this every day object as a way to gaze into eternity.
St. Clare wrote:
Look into the mirror each day ... and continually study our face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues.
She was writing to another noble lady, Princess Agnes of Bohemia, who left her fine robes for a coarse tunic to follow in the steps of St. Francis and St. Clare. But these letters are golden threads of light for any women because all of us are daughters of Christ seeking to live the virtues. The mirrors of St. Clare in the 13th century are not like our modern ones. They were made of polished metal with a curved surface something like the bottom of a pan. St. Clare uses the mirror as a meditation on the life of Christ.
Here’s how St. Clare said to look in a mirror:
- Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Marvel at how the King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger!
- Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind.
- In the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and die.
Clare encourages us to look prayerfully, to think deeply, by gazing at Christ through the mirror of our daily lives that will “place our souls in the brilliance of glory.”
After reading St. Clare’s words, I look into my mirror a lot differently now, knowing that Christ looks in the mirror with me, holding up heaven for me to gain from all the little things no one sees except Him.
Copyright 2021 Jennifer Lindberg
Image: Caroline Veronez (2020), Unsplash
About the Author
Author of "It's Three O'clock Somewhere," and award-winning journalist Jennifer Lindberg went from photographing Cindy Crawford on the red carpet to picking up toys and crumbs off her carpets at home. Six kids later, homeschooling eclectic, and divine mercy devotee, her carpet duties have lessened allowing her to write about hope, mercy, pilgrimage travel, and true self-care at Thinking From Hope or Instagram at @ThinkingFromHope.