In a letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, written towards the end of her life, St Clare of Assisi uses the image of a mirror to develop her thoughts about following Christ, what Christians call 'the spiritual life'. In the mirror, Clare says, we can see 'blessed poverty, holy humility, inexpressible charity'. Curiously, these are the same three virtues mentioned by St Dominic in his last words to his brothers: 'have charity, serve humility, possess voluntary poverty'.
Clare develops the image of the mirror as follows. The border of the mirror is poverty. It represents the birth of Christ. The surface of the mirror is humility. It represents the labours and burdens Christ endured for the redemption of the whole human race. The depth of the mirror is charity. It represents Christ's suffering on the Cross and his death there.
In the mirror appears Christ on the Cross - this is what we see when we look into its depths. We see ourselves in a mirror - and now we see Christ also. She refers to Wisdom 7:26 which speaks of wisdom as a spotless mirror reflecting God. Look into this mirror and find wisdom.
Clare offers us a progression or programme for the spiritual life, or at least she hints at one. Different terms are used for how we dispose ourselves in relation to the border, the surface and the depth of the mirror. We are to attend to the first, we are to consider the second, and we are to contemplate the third. There is a deepening of our regard in relation to the mirror as we enter more fully into what it has to reveal.
She offers us an alternative to Narcissus. He looked and saw his own reflection and fell in love with that. We are to look and see not just ourselves but Christ. We see ourselves and our Divine Lord. Putting it dramatically we can say that we see the light of goodness and the heart of darkness in that mirror which is the Cross. But the Cross, our mirror, remains our only hope (spes unica), the wisdom and the power of God.