I would like to introduce you to Dorothy Levitt, a pioneer woman motorist who provided the inspiration for the modern rearview mirror. In her 1906 book, The Woman and the Car, Dorothy Levitt “advised women to carry a hand mirror in the car’s tool chest located under the driver’s seat. Levitt suggested that the lady’s mirror could be used not only to restore her makeup after a windy drive but could also be held aloft frequently to check on the traffic behind her.”
In The Old Hermit’s Almanac, Roman Catholic liturgist and storyteller Edward Hays suggests that the next time we find ourselves glancing in our rearview mirrors, we should say a prayer of gratitude for Dorothy Levitt’s idea about being a good driver by watching the traffic behind us, and then goes on to suggest that “prayer is also a rearview mirror in which we can glance at the end of the day to see where we’ve been and what we’ve done or failed to do.”
Ignatius of Loyola had a similar insight. Following the Protestant Reformation, Ignatius sought to reform the Catholic Church through prayer. He thought that if each catholic could honestly pray, in such a way that the world within oneself and the world around oneself could both be brought fully into God’s presence, the church would discover the inner life of God expressed in the Creation, and life would become an act of gratitude. His method of prayer was a daily examination of conscience, with elaborate exercises, but which can be summarized as a daily answer to three questions:
- What were you most grateful for today?
- What were you least grateful for today?
- Where did you see God’s presence today?
Given time, Ignatius believed that those who prayed this way would begin to enter each day looking for signs of God, and that with even more practice, we could see God’s presence in the unexpected places, the times when gratitude wanes and disappointment prevails.
Over the years I have learned many ways of practicing this daily examination. I have looked back over my day as if watching videotape, taking time to remember particularly how I felt in different situations. I have imagined the events of my day as objects in a box and slowly taken each one out to see what I could learn from it before putting it back in the box now known as “yesterday.” But imaging prayer as a rearview mirror has helped me understand prayer as practice. New drivers have to learn to check their rear and side view mirrors, but for experienced drivers that triangle of front-side-back checks in almost unconscious – driving means being aware of all that is around us.
The journey of life requires nothing less.
The Rev. Jeffrey Geary is pastor of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, an international, interracial, intergenerational community of disciples celebrating 300 years of ministry in their city.