musing about mystery in Advent

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…

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4 thoughts on “musing about mystery in Advent

  1. I’m excited, truly to learn what the YES looks like!!! Thanks for sharing the words to the tune!! I wasn’t familiar and it’s powerful!! I always learn something from your blogs!!

    As a mystery lover, I don’t mind going blindly into a situation. Sometimes it works out sometimes it doesn’t. What’s appealing for me about Advent is the opportunity to “start over” and “new beginnings” and hopefully as you shared previously, to “be awake” during the process as well!! So I have faith that even if I don’t have firm answers (which you explained so well) I’m more willing to go out on a limb toward the unknown because of my love of God. That said, I look forward to more from you about the Yes to the quest of mystery! Awesome!

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  2. Thanks, Loretta. Of course, since yesterday, I’ve been thinking about my own question…and formulating a response to me! One particular word of yours touches me: “I’m more willing to go out on a limb toward the unknown because of my love of God”. I want to know more from you about your love of God and how that love compels, verily, propels you to enter/encounter/interact with the unknown. I ask because what you touch on here, for me, is about your inner calling that evolves, I think, I believe, into your intention that, in turn, leads to action. It’s this – the interiority of human experience, which forms, for me, that necessary connection between belief, and then behavior or, in other words, principle, and then practice – that intrigues me beyond the telling. So, when we next get the chance, let’s talk. Thanks!

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    • Happy to have that conversation with you Paul!!! Some of this you know, but I’ll give you one example in advance of my conversation. During my long illness, there were several periods where I almost gave up. Prior to one of my most challenging surgeries where a favorable outcome wasn’t guaranteed for me, my love of God and my Faith that I would survive compelled me to do something unusual. There’s a song that “God wouldn’t bring me this far to leave me”… I actually paid for a class that was to occur four months after the surgery to get the reduced fee. Crazy, paying in advance to save $500 when there was no guarantee I’d live to even take the course. But I wasn’t ready to die. I still had more of God’s work to do in reaching out and teaching people. I believed that my love for God and his for me was strong enough to keep me on this earth. It did propel me to act even when my future was so uncertain. I now believe that my dementia awareness work is what I was called to do and one of the primary reasons I am still on this earth.

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  3. Beautiful, Loretta. Beautiful. The power of faith – yours – to compel you to act in the face of uncertainty… As I reflect on what you’ve written, it occurs to me that life’s uncertainties remain uncertainties. In other words, I cannot know the outcome on projection (before the encounter) and I only can know what I know on reflection – after I’ve passed through the experience (whatever it is, and, in your testimony, this particularly difficult surgery). Nevertheless, it is faith (as Hebrews 11 says, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen”) that can motivate us to act; that motivation leading to action in the instant moment (when the immobility of despair surely is one optional choice) is enough. I’m rambling here, but what I’m trying to grasp is the power of the moment and the choices we make, for we cannot be responsible for what is (yet) to come. And what you did was to act in that moment when you COULD choose. That, I say, in the face of all that we cannot control, is oft, perhaps is always “enough”

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