“Autumn Brings…Mystery” (Part Four)
Col. 1:24-27 & Dt. 29:26-29 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ October 14, 2018
One of my October pastimes is visiting haunted houses. Visiting spooky homes that have been staged to appear as ‘Haunted Houses’ for our visiting curiosity. You have likely heard of them or perhaps you might have even paid admission and visited some yourself. To the adventurous, they represent the mystery of the unknown ~ they evoke the mystery of our inner uncertainties and perhaps even touch our fears as we are embraced by the unknown before us. In this autumn season, some people decorate their homes as ‘Haunted Houses’ ~ spiderwebs are proudly displayed, spooky figures decorate the yard, darkened lightbulbs are used, and people might even consider donning a costume as the Hallowe’en season approaches. And with all of these considerations, autumn becomes a time that we embrace the depths of mystery, isn’t it? As we prepare to change our clocks in a few weeks … and darkness begins to occupy a larger proportion of our day… we become increasingly aware that Autumn is the advent of a time where we are embraced by the depths of mystery. If we think about it, autumn is the antithesis of the seemingly endless sunlight of summer. Rather, autumn is a time where the path is not always clear or illumined; it is a time where we must live in uncertainty and sometimes even live in our fears. Autumn is a time of … mystery.
Now…some of you may wish to protest. Many of us, I suspect, object to relishing in, let alone taking any interest in, the pursuit of mystery. We object to the thought of embracing or entertaining mystery as most of us view mystery as something to be solved, defeated or done away with. We love a great mystery novel and take pride in our ability to solve the mystery prior to reading the concluding chapter. We love attending a murder mystery party at a friend’s home and hope that we can arise as the successful sleuth. In fact, the very nature of rational thought that allowed the modernist and now postmodern eras to unfold have been ones of proving hypotheses and untangling the mysteries of the universe. We have made profound leaps in science. They have mapped the human genome, made advances in stem cell therapy, learned how to produce energy from wind /water / the sun and bio gas, and found the building blocks of life in galaxies beyond. It seems like science has almost eliminated mystery…or has it?
Perhaps not. With all this ground-breaking work, we continue to live with so much mystery. So much is still unknown. Mystery abounds before us and as people who live in and with faith, we are ones who truly embrace this reality. On this dichotomy between science and religion, Albert Einstein prophetically wrote: “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind”. So…as people of faith, we are tasked to live with the tension of that mystery in our days. We still live with mystery even in our current era that seeks to eliminate it. From a spiritual perspective, we might feel that we are almost like ‘a fish out of water’ these days. I say this because, in the purest form, spirituality was never meant to have been engaged in solely by the rational mindset that we rely upon today. Faith was conceived during a time of mystery, of reverence, of story. Our scriptures all were presented to help move us towards a deeper awareness of truth amidst the mystery of our living. For example, Jesus told parables that pointed listeners towards the unfolding of an alternative Kin-dom to the existing Kingdom of Roman oppression. He told parables of the God’s Kin-dom of love, shalom and peace. In an earlier time, people walked in an oasis garden with God, water was received from a dry rock, manna was found mingled with the morning dew, and Jesus broke bread and poured wine at the table…all of these, reassuring people of God’s enduring presence through the mystery of God’s presence.
In their recent book, “Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable”, Steven Boyer and Christopher Hall argue that in our present day the importance of entertaining the mystery of God has an essential place in our theological pursuit. For us to acknowledge God’s mystery ~ to consider the incomprehensible mystery of the divine, invites our reverence…our humility…our thinking and… our faithful living. Mystery ultimately invites us into a deeper and more authentic sense of being disciples.
In the two focus texts, we are invited into conversations about the mystery that God’s people live into. In the Deuteronomy passage, which forms that basis of the five books of the Jewish law ~ the Torah ~ where the Jewish people sought to understand the right way to live in relationship with God. They find themselves trying to make sense of where they had gone wrong ~ why they had turned to other idols and gods instead of their God ~ why they found themselves so very distant ~ both physically (in terms of their distant captivity in exile) and also metaphorically distant as they had become so deeply separated from their faith. The hopeful words in the passage form the conclusion: “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law”. It became understood that in their understanding / their following of the law, the mysteries of God’s love and grace would slowly be revealed to them.
This Hebrew Bible passage parallels with the passage we heard from Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Colossae. It is important to note that Paul uses the word “mystery” 21 times throughout his letters. Each time, for Paul, mystery is that wonderful declaration of a spiritual truth revealed by God through divine inspiration. In this particular passage, Paul lifts up how the mystery of Christ is in each of us. He writes: “to them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles, the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
Seen in this precious way, mystery does not need to be something to be solved or even avoided for that matter. Mystery is an essential part of our faith and connection with the divine. The Oxford dictionary defines mystery as a “religious truth that is beyond human powers to understand”. If we think about it, we base our lives upon spiritual truths that lie beyond our very understanding. That: “the first shall be last”… that “in giving we shall receive”… that “in dying we live”…that “in our weakness we are strong”. I don’t know any people of faith who wait to fully grasp these mysteries prior to living them out. You know, as well as I do, that we live these mysteries out in faith. Upside down as the mysteries may seem, we live them out by faith. We live into the mystery. And it is only when we live in this mystery that we can we truly begin to comprehend the necessity of mystery in our faith. For to live mystery, is to embrace the depth and the richness of the spiritual life. To live the mystery is to embrace the questions themselves as stones that pave, not obstruct, our path towards the heights and depths of true intimacy with God.
I wonder what mysteries touch your life these days? The ‘why’ questions in our world. The ‘why’ questions that may be so deeply personal, or familial, or communal. To know that God is in the mystery gives us hope and grace and indeed a depth of knowing that all will be well through God’s time….through God’s grace…through God’s mystery. Can you / can I live in the mystery that is a deep part of our relationship with God? I would like to close our consideration with these profound words from “Letters to a Young Poet” by Austrian author Rainer Maria Rilke from the late 19th century. He writes: “You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves — like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. The point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”