I have a friend who used to do workshops for women wherein she would ask the question: “How many of you get up in the morning, look in your mirror, smile and say, ‘What a woman!'” I’ve used that line (with obvious changes if there are men in the room) and the first reaction is usually hearty laughter. If pushed to really answer the question, there’s rarely more than one or two people who admit of the practice or even the possibility that they might be able to say those words about themselves.
This morning’s reading from the Letter of James reminded me of this sad commentary on our self-esteem. But James is getting at something different, albeit related, in what he says. Never one to mince words, James is talking about daily behavior when he says that “everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…[and] humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you…” Then comes the relevant paragraph.
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts; such a one shall be blessed in what he does. (The lack of inclusive language here only proves the point more forcefully, were this a contemporary text!)
Truly knowing ourselves as beloved of God, we are enabled to look deeply into the inner mirror of ourselves, accepting what we find there. In that way, we do not forget our call to live what we have accepted, knowing also that each person’s face reflects God’s love in some way and is worthy of our care. Thus we will act on this knowledge, never forgetting our call to serve.