Face to Face

 
“Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:8-1

“Once, when I was with the whole community reciting the Office, my soul became suddenly recollected, and seemed to me all bright as a mirror, clear behind, sideways, upwards, and downwards; and in the centre of it I saw Christ our Lord, as I usually see Him. It seemed to me that I saw Him distinctly in every part of my soul, as in a mirror, and at the same time the mirror was all sculptured—I cannot explain it—in our Lord Himself by a most loving communication which I can never describe… This vision seems to me very profitable to recollected persons, to teach them to look upon our Lord as being in the innermost part of their soul. It is a method of looking upon Him which penetrates us more thoroughly, and is much more fruitful, than that of looking upon Him as external to us, as I have said elsewhere, and as it is laid down in books on prayer, where they speak of where we are to seek God. The glorious St. Augustin, in particular, says so, when he says that neither in the streets of the city, nor in pleasures, nor in any place whatever where he sought Him, did he find Him as he found Him within himself. This is clearly the best way; we need not go up to heaven, nor any further than our own selves…” Teresa of Avila, 16th c Spanish mystic and nun: The Life (autobiography) of St. Teresa of Avila, Tr. David Lewis, ch 40: 8-10

In the first century, mirrors were dim. Many were made of polished brass, which was nowhere nearly as reflective as the silvered glass we use today. You could look in a brass mirror and get a rough idea of how you looked. But it was hardly a face-to-face encounter.

St. Paul’s oft-quoted “love passage” in his first letter to the Corinthians includes the alluring promise that one day, instead of looking in the mirror and seeing a dim (riddle-like, to get more at the meaning of the Greek word) image of ourselves, we’ll look directly at God. In a perfect, clear mirror? Paul does not say so, but we might speculate that he meant that if our the mirrors of our souls were polished brightly enough, they would reflect God’s image in our own. Perhaps Paul was describing the same kind of experience that Teresa of Avila envisioned, in which she looked in a mirror and saw Christ suffused completely in and into herself.

This was the message of so many of the mystics of Christian history: that to know one’s self, ultimately and completely, was to know God. Some of them, including Jesus, ran afoul of the religious hierarchy for saying so. It sounded dangerously like heresy to suggest that you could experience God directly within yourself without the intervention of organized religion. It still makes religious authorities nervous! But it was at the heart of the example and the teaching of Jesus, who said the kingdom of heaven is within and among us. It was right there in the words of Paul as well.

Mindful Christianity is the practice of polishing our mirrors and gazing intently into them. Not to admire ourselves with egotistic pride or scornful judgment, but to see what is going on inside of us – to see our lives as they really are, and then to awaken to the fact that our lives are being observed by the divine Observer within us. “Mire que le mira,” said Teresa of Avila – “see that you are seen.”

Every time I enter into mindful prayer, I start by gazing into a mirror, dimly. A dim inner mirror, gazed at with dim inner eyes. Slowly I polish the mirror with loving, open, non-judgmental attention. My inner eyes begin to adjust and focus. And I begin to see not just the face I expect or want to see, but the whole picture of my thoughts, sensations, and urges – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Warts and stray hairs and happy smile and all! Behind the eyes that appear in the mirror I begin to awaken to the subtle eyes of the One who is doing the seeing. And then we begin to see, face to face…
 
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California
 

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