Posted October 02, 2012 in Word Made Flesh:
Staring at a Mirror

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

I don’t understand why you’d do somethin’ like that right out before God an’ everybody.

Well, there was a trend in the ‘60’s to learn how to be at home "in your own skin," your own emotions and fears. Since all of that was quite new to us bourgeois thinking folk we needed some help.

One of the popular methods in psychology at the time was called, "group therapy"—basically like-minded people working things out together with professional guidance.

Why didn’t y’all just go fishin’ and talk it out with God?

I guess because along the way we learned that some inner lies just don’t get unravelled in your life unless you "talk it out" with another human being who can challenge you and support you. (By the way, that’s really part of the genius of confession in our Catholic tradition.).

So one of the things we did in our group was to sit in front of another person and look into that person’s eyes for thirty seconds while repeating our own name over and over slowly without blinking or turning away. Then we changed places and let them do the same with us.

Afterwards we would come back together in the larger group and talk about what was going on during the eyeball-to-eyeball.

Plus, we had to do the same thing alone at home every night while staring into a mirror, "journal" about it and then share that in the group as well.

Yuk! Now I know I’m goin’ fishin’!

Well, as crazy as it sounds, something good did happen to me in all that untamed psychotherapy which prepared me for a profound faith experience a few years later. And it all had to do with looking somebody right in the eye.

I was visiting Madonna House for the first time and had just come away from one of the work-tables outside the main house where, during warm weather, you washed your hands before going into the dining room to eat. Above the table was a mirror.

Nothing odd about that except for the fact that mirrors were about as plentiful at Madonna House at the time as a cold beer in the Sinai desert; I presumed that was part of their humility thing.

But there at the bottom of this tacky little mirror, written poorly with what was obviously red fingernail polish, were the words "Image of God."

I won’t tell you what I said to myself as I looked into that mirror and read that silly cliché but I felt like I was back "in group" with a religious twist and I wanted no part of that in my life at that time.

Hey, I keep tellin’ ya this Madonna House place is weird!

That’s exactly what I was thinking until I turned and found myself looking into the deepest set of blue, blue, eyes I had ever seen. They "swallowed me up" and the lady behind them added a smile I had never seen the likes of before and walked away without saying a word. I damn-near fainted.

You want to hear "weird"? There was a mirror in the outdoor jon where I was staying at the time, and sometimes when I was alone I would pretend that the eyes in the mirror were her eyes and we were looking at each other again.

I’d smile and she’d smile. I’d say my name and she’d say my name—all done very, very quietly you understand!

It’s like I told ya, what you need ta do is go fishin’, Reverend.

Well, it didn’t last too long so I didn’t worry about it, but there is final chapter to the "magic mirror" story and at first it did sort of worry me.

It happened a few years later, at a time when my self-hatred was very strong and my faith was very weak. The only place I was at peace was when I returned to Madonna House and went to the poustinia.*

Often I would walk the few kilometres between where I lived to the poustinia, silent all the way: the only prayer I could manage at the time was the name of Jesus, one breath at a time.

When I got to the poustinia that day and went inside, I turned to close the door and I found myself looking directly in a mirror on the wall. Not only is that highly unusual in a poustinia at Madonna House, but since I was still breathing I was saying the name of Jesus.

So when my eyes met those eyes in the mirror I wasn’t saying my name but His name. And for a fleeting moment it was like He and I were staring at each other eyeball to eyeball in that tacky little mirror.

Then I blinked and "he" was gone: there was only me looking at me again.

Then I "got it." That was precisely what happened at the wash-up sink when I met Catherine Doherty for the first time eye to eye: I had never met her before but I knew her immediately through her eyes.

In her eyes I could see that here was a woman who had her feet firmly on the ground but whose heart was so focused on Jesus that when I looked into her eyes that day it was Him whom I saw!

I don’t think I’d feel at home in my skin around someone like her, Reverend. I mean, how would you go fishin’ with somebody like that?

My friend, if you’ve really got your feet on the ground and your eyes on the one whom you love, like this woman did, prayin’ and fishin’ would be pretty much like the same thing.

I guess you’re tryin ta tell me it might be good for me ta fish less and maybe try the mirror trick myself too, huh?

Now that you mention it, that might not be a bad idea. But I’ll wager you a free week on the best fishing lake in Ontario, Canada, that you can’t do it!

Try me!

OK, Mr. Bass with a big mouth: tonight before you go to bed stand before a mirror with your eyes shut real tight. Then when you feel at ease, "in your own skin," put your nose right up to the glass, open your eyes and start saying the name of Jesus over and over very slowly, without blinking or turning away. Do it for 30 seconds and then call me. We’ll "group" and talk about it.

They’d have me in a straightjacket before sunrise!

I bet the blind man from Jericho (Mk 10:46-52) felt the same way when everybody tried to shut him up put him in a straightjacket. But he just kept reaching out over and over saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," and the next thing he knew he was eyeball to eyeball with the Son of God.

Just think what would have happened if he had gone fishin’ instead!

Don’t be lookin’ at me like that Reverend? I bet none of your readers can do it either!



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