As one possessed of (by?) a musical soul, as oft happens, I awoke with a tune sounding in my mind. This morning: Adoro te devote. For a moment, remaining in restful, silent repose, I mouthed the now long familiar words:
Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen, Who thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean; Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed. Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.
This 13th century meditation attributed to Thomas Aquinas expresses profoundest love for Jesus Christ – particularly as revealed in the bread and wine (“these shadows mean”) of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper – the One truly adored who “hidest ‘neath”, shrouded “within the cloud” of ineffable mystery.
Aquinas’ words give fair voice to my longing, my love – shared universally, I think, by all, religious and not – for connection to something greater. And whenever I ponder of the verity, the truth of God or Jesus, nature or life itself, there is mystery.
Mystery. Not a riddle to be resolved by reason, so to say if only I knew more, I’d figure it out. But a reality (really, reality itself) beyond my comprehension’s fullest grasp. Hence, the more I know – as knowledge, like the ever-expanding universe, is boundless, always waiting to be revealed and, indeed, always in the making – the more I know I don’t know.
Yet mystery, it seems to me, is always calling, “Come.” This poses an immediate dilemma. The nature of mystery is mysterious; so unresponsive to my desire, at times, my demand for answers (especially frustrating for one who is incurably curious!).
But no matter how much I question, no matter how near I draw to mystery, I inevitably encounter uncertainty. Most of time, that’s OK. I readily acknowledge ambiguity, at least, in the abstract (I oft say, “If there’s one thing about which I’m certain, it’s ambiguity!”). However, it’s quite another thing to be uncertain in the concrete situations of my life, at those unavoidable intersections of circumstance and decision, crisis and action when my choices, however sincerely, thoughtfully made, can prove disastrously wrong. In such moments, I yearn for the comfort, the confidence of knowing.
Confessing this, I recognize the danger of running too far in the other direction, away from mystery. Whenever I do that, almost invariably I end up equating faith with certainty and, worse, with an absolutism that inhibits inquiry and hungers for (and will be satiated only by) clear, firm answers.
I am a Christian. It is Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas, in turn, the annual Christian celebration of the greatest mystery, the grandest incomprehensibility of all: God taking human flesh to dwell in earthly time and space.
On this morning, as clearly as I heard the ancient chant Adoro te devote, and, once again, mystery’s call, “Come,” so Advent beckons me to answer always, “Yes!” to the quest of mystery. So, as an inveterate questioner, I ask myself: What does that “yes” look like?
Hmmm, I have to think more about that. More to come…