In the first book of the Harry Potter Series, Harry discovers a large mirror hidden away in Hogwarts Castle which allows him to gaze upon his heart’s desire. He is transfixed by the living image before him, drinking in the looking-glass presence of his mother and father. He begins to devote all his free time to this Mirror, the Mirror of Erised, and it is not until Dumbledore warns him of its dangers that he ceases to sit before it.
We all know what it is like to become transfixed by our desires, to sit before the images of our fantasies, and how in the sitting we lose touch with reality.
Readers are told that the man who is perfectly happy would see himself in this Mirror as he is, and that Dumbledore, as such a man, or nearly so, sees himself simply with the addition of some woolen socks, which one can never have enough of.
It is only later in the series that we discover Dumbledore, the sage guide of all Harry Potter’s adventures, the one who has over seen, steered, and ensured much of Harry’s safety and success, a man whose wisdom and kindness fill that world with the hope and peace of God, is not wholly at peace with himself or the world.
It is not only Harry, who sees his parents he never knew in the flesh, nor Ron, who imagines himself as an athletic all-star, even Albus Dumbledore is not free from desire and harbors deep regrets about his past, regrets which significantly inform the course and the final conflict of the novel. (There are some who see those woolen socks as a sign of these regrets, but I will leave that to the initiated.)
More importantly, the conclusion of the Harry Potter series has no little concern with the image of Dumbledore which Harry and readers have come to be familiar with. When we discover the depth of Dumbledore’s desires, a dissatisfaction which leads even to his early death, JK Rowling manages, not to dismantle our idea of him, but ultimately to transfigure it.
In Dumbledore, we receive a triumphant confirmation of what it means to be truly human, to see through a glass darkly. None of us can look upon our past with perfect equanimity. In as much as we come to accept and even have gratitude for what is most disturbing, we may say we have come close seeing as God sees.
Nevertheless, none of us are perfect, none of our lives are untouched by sorrow and sin.
Through Dumbledore, we discover that despite this fact, the greatness of the man and thus of mankind in general, is not done away with in such shortcoming. Rather, our greatness is somehow in the fact that we are troubled by the brokenness, for if we were not, if we saw nothing in the Mirror of Erised, considering the state of things, we would be very poor creatures in deed.
For Dumbledore, as for us all, what we see in the Mirror, the fact that we have deep desires yet unmet is ultimately an opening in us for the power of God to work it true and deepest magic–the sacrificial magic of the cross, the hopeful magic of faith. Dumbledore’s truly human grandeur emerges only in light of his human failings and longings, bound together, and how he chooses to live in the face of these shortcomings.
So though we have now and again with incautious backward, or not so backward glances gazed into this Mirror, let us not forget that what we saw or that we looked is not a sign of our unique and individual failure. It is a sign of our collective brokenness and longing–that all has not yet been made right. In such dangerous knowledge, we see hints of the direction we are indeed to turn our gaze, a sign of the work we are truly to be about, the work of preparing the world for a time when we shall no longer look through mirrors, but see God face to face.