EBS1: The Magic Mirror

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #1

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 1, 1975

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There is a wonderful story told among mountain people that I would like to relate to you. An old man wandered into a country store and saw something he had never seen before—it was a mirror. He picked it up and looked into it and said, “Why that’s the spitting image of my Uncle Zeke!” He bought the mirror and took it home. But, because his wife’s family were at the time feuding with Uncle Zeke, he hid the mirror under some hay in the barn, and from time to time he stole out and took a look at “his Uncle Zeke”. After some time passed, his wife became quite suspicious of his trips to the barn and she investigated. She came across the mirror, looked into it, and said, “Ahah...so that’s the woman he has been seeing!”

As we try to understand life, it can be compared to many things. Madeline Bridges has an interesting idea,

“For life is the mirror of king and slave, ‘Tis just what we are and do...so give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you.”

The world has for us what we will have of it. We experience only what we see— and what we see, we are. The Cosmic mirror of life reflects the faces we make at life. Sunny and smiling, or sour and irritable, we find the world a true copy of our moods. Nature is susceptible: she laughs with those who laugh, and she weeps with those who weep. If we rejoice and are glad, the very birds seem to sing more sweetly. But, to the sad and sour there is sudden gloom on nature’s face. The sun may be smiling, but not in their hearts. The birds may be singing, but they break the heart of the sullen soul.

Nothing will be found in the world that is not first found in ourselves. As Emerson says, “That only which we have within, can we see without. If we meet no Gods, it is because we harbor none...We find in people the qualities that our own prevailing characteristics call forth.”

It is said that in his native haunts, nothing makes an elephant quite so angry as seeing his own reflection in a pool of water. However thirsty he may be, if he sees his image he becomes angry and lashes the water furiously before he will take a drink. While the elephant may not like his looks, he does not become less ugly by attacking his reflection. And, actually, we do the same thing when something occurs in our lives which brings out the ugly side of our nature.

The person who shows little or no warmth toward others will probably meet with a cold reception wherever he goes. He will produce the climate around him by what he has within him. If he is a friendly person, he will have friends; if he is a selfish person, he will be left to himself. Are there those in your life who seem to have an ugly disposition towards you? Perhaps before condemning them, you should be sure that you are not doing as the elephant—charging at your own image.

Most of us have a handy mirror before which we check our appearance in the morning. If our hair is askew or we have not properly shaved, do we get mad at the mirror? Of course not. We simply correct what was out of place in our appearance.

Whatever we look upon and contemplate for any length of time has a transforming influence on us. It is a well known principle that we become like that upon which we look. If, instead of trying to correct a problem, we keep looking at the imperfect image, if we keep resisting the imperfect conditions around us, we cause a static condition.

Ideals, desires, aspirations, are things which we embrace in idle moments, but we sternly put them from us with the thought that we must get back to the realities of life. Almost by definition, ideals are things we do not expect to come about.

We see the dull routine as the real thing even though we wish with all our heart that we could experience the ideal.

An ideal is a state of being in which all things conspire to happy, satisfactory and constructive living. Why, then, should the ideal not be the real and the routine the unreal? Is it not better to be a full and complete individual than to be a miserable, unexpressed, disgruntled person who accepts compromises?

We say that the ideal is hard to grasp in the face of harsh experience. How do we do it? Well, this calls for a little imagination. We use imagination constantly anyway, in fact it is what draws into our lives that which we presently think of as harsh reality. When trouble approaches, we have no trouble mustering enough imagination to die a thousand deaths of expectancy. So why not use imagination constructively, and through it live a thousand joyous moments of expectancy until we finally find ourselves stepping upon the threshold of full experience?

Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also was I fully known.” He speaks of the mirror concept in which we can just as easily convert the ideal into the real as we can the thought of fear into reality in our lives. He says again, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord.”

This is the concept of the magic mirror. The unveiled face is the person who is free from prejudice, self-interest, and pre-conceived ideas—the sincere person. The origin of the word “sincere” means “without wax.” This refers to honey that has been strained through a cloth until the wax is removed; the honey has been cleansed and nothing is left but pure, amber honey. No doubt this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

When we find the purity of heart and vision, we see as God sees: we see our God-likeness as if we were looking into a mirror and we are transformed by that image, step by step, by the Spirit of the Lord.

What does this all mean in practical terms? Simply this: when you survey your life from a realistic standpoint (remember it is but the reflection of your thoughts), do so without resisting the appearance or the persons around you. In correcting the faulty image, ask yourself the question, “What do I want to be?

What would I want to have?” This is your ideal, so unveil your face so that you see this ideal instead of the cold reality.

Keep looking at the ideal—see things as you would like them to be—and you will find yourself gradually transformed into that same image. Milton makes this point when he says,

“Till oft converse with heavenly habitants
Begins to cast a beam on the outward shape,
The unpolluted temple of the mind.”

Wordsworth makes the same point when describing the education of his daughter:

“She shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmering sound
Shall pass into her face.”

Keep looking into that magic mirror. Keep seeing yourself as you want to be, instead of as you are. Keep seeing the ideal instead of the cold reality.

The only real difference between a rich man and a poor man is not in money, but in what each man sees. John Burroughs was rich because he could see and enjoy the glories all about him, while his schoolmate, Jay Gould, was a poor man, though he accumulated fifty million dollars. He was poor because he could see nothing but dollar signs and bank accounts.

Michaelangelo could see an angel in every rough stone. Jesus could see a child of God in every beggar. Because He looked through the “magic mirror”, the unveiled eyes saw the glory of God and He was transformed into that same image. It is the same principle for you and me:

“Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and the other the stars.”


© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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