musing about mystery in Advent, concluded

Mystery, not a riddle to be resolved, but reality beyond my greatest knowing, which (because it is real) constantly calls to me, “Come.” Advent, that church season of preparation for the coming of Jesus, the grandest mystery of all of God in flesh, bids me to answer, “Yes.” In answering, “yes”, seeking, looking at mystery, though light is my desire that I might see more clearly, darkness is my need.

There is a biblical figure who, for me, personifies the courageous search for light in the darkness of mystery. Nicodemus.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus, though a living, breathing repository of God’s law, a virtual embodiment of enlightenment, cannot see clearly. Nicodemus has heard about Jesus, the marvelous words, the miraculous deeds, but, not knowing who this strange rabbi is, it’s all mysterious.

Nicodemus (who must hale from my home, Missouri, “the show me state”) must see for himself; seeking out Jesus at night (the darkness of night being a metaphor, I believe, for uncertainty and unknowing in the face of mystery).

Nicodemus and Jesus speak, but not the same language. Jesus talks of spiritual things, telling Nicodemus that he must be born again. Nicodemus, comprehending only the physical nature of things, replying as a cold literalist, wonders how he might climb back into his mother’s womb! Jesus persists, pointing to the verity, the truth about God, about life, about Nicodemus. To live in God’s kingdom, to touch Life that is life is granted only by and through spirit, for it is beyond the power of flesh, human intellect or intention, to grasp. Verily, to be born again is to dwell in a state of conscious awareness of a connection with something greater. Eventually, apparently, Nicodemus sees.

mystery - Hubble telescopeTo walk into darkness, hoping to see light. This is what my “yes” in response to mystery’s call looks like. I will strive to remember this when (not if) I find myself in the darkness of my uncertainty, my unknowing:

To answer with a courageous “yes” to mystery’s call, which because of my uncertainty and unknowing is always fearsome…

To know, having said “yes”, that I might look, must look (keep my eyes open and not veil them in fear) in the hope of seeing light…

To believe that when the mystery is the darkness of my uncertainty and unknowing (meaning that mystery is not, perhaps is never wholly external, but always, at least in part, internal), then it also is the source of light; for always harbored in my uncertainty and unknowing is the seed of faith, that assurance, my assurance of the presence of the One who is greater, for the love of whom I can sing:

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.

musing about mystery in Advent, continued…

Mystery. Whether about God or Jesus, nature or life, or me – not a riddle to be resolved by reason, but a reality beyond my completest understanding. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Nevertheless, I hear mystery’s constant call to me, “Come.” As Advent beckons me to answer, “Yes,” I ask myself: What does that “yes” look like?

In the human encounter with mystery, a common desire, I think, I feel is light. I have an image in mind. I’m peering into the mouth of a long, serpentine, seemingly endless corridor. Though, for whatever reasons, I must enter, I have a choice. I can forge on with only my native eyesight, by which, at best, I, with every step, can see only a foot or two ahead or, with the aid of a trusty flashlight in hand, I can follow its bright beam. Facing mystery, yes, please, let there be light!

In Advent, the church addresses this desire, on each of the four Sundays igniting an additional candle, symbolizing, as Christmas nears, drawing closer to the coming of Jesus, the embodiment of that ineffable mystery of God in flesh and the Light of the world. Light.

As I muse, being always a questioner and, perhaps, too, a contrarian, I also think of darkness.

I came across a poem, Sweet Darkness, by anthropologist and naturalist, philosopher and poet David Whyte that afforded me some insight (pun intended!). Whyte speaks to me, for me of moments when I can’t see. When more looking yields no better recognition. When more thinking reaches no deeper comprehension. When more words spoken in conversation or argument achieve no greater understanding. When sense and nonsense, clarity and confusion appear as one. Moments when I come to that agonizing realization that nothing I can do brings me closer to truth. Yet, there, in the dark, if I would but embrace it, accept it, I can be and I am called and comforted, known and loved. There, in the limitless darkness, I see more than I could have imagined or would dare to have believed.

To walk into darkness, hoping to see light. This, I believe (though confessing my always desire to have light in all ways), is what my “yes” in response to mystery’s call looks like.

And, now, typical of my usually biblically-based contemplation, I ask myself: What figure, what character portrays, models for me this willingness to enter the dark hoping, praying to see light?

More to come…

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…