Mirrors of Dangerous Grace

This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.antique mirror

I have a favorite mirror, which thankfully is not in my house. In it, I see myself as I do in my mind’s eye: five inches taller, and maybe even 10 pounds lighter. Alas, the mirror is slightly warped, stretching reflections like taffy. The reality is that I’m five foot tall and my bad knee would be happier if I, and not just my reflection, lost those 10 pounds.

The work of this last week was to seek out mirrors that didn’t skew my image, that let me see myself as I truly am—a loved sinner—and then look into them. And look again, more deeply.

There are many mirrors to choose from, and Ignatius suggests holding them up one at a time. What does sin look like in history, in the larger world? How am I entangled in it? Can I see how my sin spirals out, injuring my students and colleagues, my family and friends?

And hardest of all, how can I look into a mirror that shows every flaw with clarity and manage to see how beautifully I am created, how wonderfully loved? Ignatius asks us to imagine looking into Jesus’ eyes as he dies on the cross and talking to him. The conversation Ignatius suggests we have is not one in which Jesus takes us to task for every sin we have ever committed in some sort of divine scolding. Instead, the emphasis is on seeing the immensity of the love with which I am created, and by which I am redeemed—a love that will give everything away, even while it sees every chip in my soul, every hard spot in my heart.

Ignatius keeps the focus turned away from ourselves—what have I done wrong?—and firmly on God: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? Lutheran pastor Walter Wangerin calls this contemplation a “mirror of dangerous grace.” It is a mirror that does not just reflect back what is, or even what has been, but like my favorite mirror, invites me to see my best self. This mirror of grace is not passive, but active. It challenges me to become my best self.

What I found most difficult about these contemplations was not so much the looking into the mirrors, but the looking again. I want to say, yes, yes, I see it; I’m changed. I finally realized that I was still wincing at my flaws, still not quite ready to risk facing a love so deep that even as Jesus hangs on the cross for what I have done, I am drenched in grace.

What I see, with grace I could yet be.

Previous articleAn Examen for the Third Week of Lent
Next articleAn Ignatian 5K
Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. Michelle.
    Apparently you have touched several hearts with your mirror, including mine. I don’t often look in mirrors either. Yet this Lent God has enabled me to do so. Through the tears that filled my heart and opened my eyes
    to God’s vision of me. Sin? Yes. but after the tears — the overwhelming love of our Father God has been deeply my companion. Thank you for your words – I feel you know my heart as well
    as your own.


  2. I love your post. For most of my life I haven’t properly looked at myself in mirrors – just a quick glance to check on some kind of orthodox presentability. It felt wrong to think I mattered.
    A few years ago, after a sequence of traumatic events, I met someone who would become a transformative presence. He guided me through various healing processes to come to see I too was of value.
    I have begun to care about myself & have started to pause with intentional kindness, including when I look in a mirror.
    Aged 58 I am just beginning to learn to look & see myself with loving kindness.

  3. Ah, this is so hard to do though! When I look in the mirror the flaws and sin can be so overwhelming! Ignatius says he came to grips with the fact that he was a “loved sinner”. I know that in my head…can’t quite get it to my hear though…asking for the grace to see that and KNOW it!

  4. Dear Fran, Robin, Claire, Linda and Lynda — thank you for your own beautiful reflections in the mirror, you all bring much Light to the world!

    • I love your post. In my prayer this evening, I was thinking: what if I do something wrong but I do not know that I made somebody else sad. Or,
      what if I choose a wrong mirror? Thank you, Michelle.

  5. Lovely, lovely post. I heard it said a couple of weeks ago that if you look into a mirror and only pick out the flaws, you’re not seeing the world through God’s eyes, but only through your own, and thus, your focus in life is also on yourself. Your post reminded me of this valuable lesson. Thank you.

  6. I read this earlier, went back to savor it, and couldn’t for the life of me remember where it was posted! Beautiful AND prolific writing, Michelle.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here