Stand in front of the mirror, and be still. What do you see? Do you see what others see? When Harry Potter stood in front of the Mirror of Erised he saw his parents and other relatives. He’s surprised when Ron Weasley can’t see what Harry sees: when Ron looks in the mirror, he sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch Captain. Professor Dumbledore says he sees lots of socks in the mirror–you can never have enough socks, after all–though elsewhere it hints that he actually sees his family alive and well again. Erised is Desire backwards, and the mirror does not show knowledge or truth: it’s inscribed, erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi — I show not your face but your heart’s desire. It shows us what we really, really want. Poor old Ron wanted to be Quidditch captain so that he could come out of the shadow of his successful older brothers, and of Harry himself.
Our dreams are a bit like that mirror. We see images that tell us about our deepest needs, about what we really, really want. They’re often scrambled, and they take some reflecting upon (mirror again) in order to sort out the images. A dream about your children might actually be a story about something child-like in your own make-up that you need to pay attention to. After all, the child is father of the wo/man, and we will gain eternal life when we become as children: open, exploratory, trusting, naïve, lacking the will to harm (is the impulse to malice peculiar to humans?).
Mirrors feature a good deal in Holy Scripture and religious imagery. St Paul writes of the mirror in which we see in ourselves the likeness of the Divine, and other religious writers write that infant humanity has the capacity to grow into full maturity in God. We polish the mirror such that the image of God within us might perfectly reflect its divine source. If you’ve seen or read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, you might recall how the key to the mystery lies beyond what appears to be a mirror surmounted by the words Imago dei – the image of God, actually a concealed door to a secret chamber. Pre-Christian writers tell us that self-knowledge is divinity. Christian writers tell us that self-knowledge is the essential prerequisite to glimpse the Divine.
A mirror features too in The Snow Queen, the Andersen tale that ought to be part of the Biblical canon. The shards of diabolical mirror that distort Kay’s inner and outer vision, shards that turn Kay’s heart to ice, melted only by Gerda’s tears of love. Speed these lagging footsteps, melt this heart of ice; as I scan the marvels of thy sacrifice.
I show not your face but your heart’s desire. Ask yourself what it is that you really, really want in all the world. An itch for a new house might signify a search for a spiritual home; a flash car might point to a lost youth or lost opportunities; flailing around for a different job could be an expression of disappointment in yourself; seeking promotion or additional qualifications might signify a sign of a need for acceptance—especially self-acceptance.
Jesus said what do you want me to do for you? What do you really, really want? What do you see when you look in the mirror?