Faith column: The reflection in the mirror

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When you look in a mirror what do you see?

At some point(s) in our lives, many of us have an uneasy relationship with the mirror. We try to avoid them whenever possible because we are uncomfortable with what we see there. Others may go the other way and spend too much time at the mirror—either because they are very comfortable with what they see or because they are strenuously trying to change the picture.

But what do you see when you look in the mirror?

That is a question about how we understand ourselves. And there are two directions I think we can go from that question.

In the past, whenever I have talked about a mirror in a sermon, it has been with Michael Jackson’s song Man in the Mirror ringing in my ears. Which seems odd at first sine I am not a terribly big fan of Michael Jackson, and musically the song is not anywhere near my favourite. But the lyrics: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.”

In a world where we often see so many things that need to be changed (or that we think need to be changed) and yet at the same time feel powerless to do anything about it, Jackson’s song reminds us that we have power. There are many theories about how change happens in a culture. Some change needs to happen at a systemic, government level. Some change starts with us. I tend to believe that any long lasting change starts with us as individuals. Either we change our own way of reacting to life or (maybe and?) we push for changes on a broader scale. Either way, Jackson reminds us that it is not enough to blame everybody else for the problems we see. As many a parent or teacher has reminded a young person, “You can not control what Sally does, you can control what you do.” As people who live with privilege and power, we need to be able to look in the mirror and admit that maybe we are part both of the problem and the solution.

I still believe all of that. But it is not the only helpful message we can get from a mirror.

One Sunday this summer I was worshiping at my childhood church and the place for the prayer of confession talked about a mirror. I was intrigued and wondered where the worship leader, Rev. Tyler Powell, was heading.

Tyler talked about looking in the mirror. He talked about how many people, when they look in the mirror, are prone to see their flaws. That may mean seeing the scars life has left on our face. Or it may be the anxious and acne-prone teenager seeing all the blemishes. Or it may be the person who carries inside themselves some deep shame or guilt and they see a terrible person looking back out of that mirror. I think Tyler was right. Humans can be really good at being judgmental, particularly about themselves. But…

Tyler then reminded us that everyone sitting in that sanctuary that day was a beloved child of God. And he asked what it would mean to look in that mirror and say to yourself, “Hey, there is a beloved child of God looking back at me.” What do you think God sees when God looks at you? Does God only see the flaws? Or does God see the beloved, if imperfect, child?

If we are honest we know that the person staring back at us from the mirror could possibly do better. We know that there are things we could so but don’t. We know that there are things we probably shouldn’t do but do anyway. But do we remember who we are underneath all of that? We are, each and every one of us, a beloved child of God. Which part will we focus on?

It is my belief that if we start our reflections on that face in the mirror with the second of these two things, trying to see ourselves as the beloved child God sees we start working towards the first, challenging that person to make a change in the world. And even if it doesn’t, then at least we start by reminding ourselves of our true identity. We are flawed. We are imperfect. But first and foremost we are beloved children of God. That is who God sees. And who are we to argue with God?

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does God want us to see? I believe God wants us to see the beloved child, able to go out and live in God’s Way and make a difference in the world.

—Gord Waldie, St.Paul’s United Church

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