We live and die in mysteries. They surround and infuse us. The banjo sings “Let the mystery be!” Probably good advice. But I’m going to examine the mysteries anyway.
There are morning ones: a morning glory on my path to the bay, a ferry plying the blue, the sheen where the bay meets the sky. I pause — and let them sink in. They pull at my soul. Small boats resist departing tide. Early sunlight catches furled sails. These give goose-bumps. I start my morning walk with goose-bump receptivity. In these moments of minor glory, mysteries come alive. — Gifts from I know not where: gifts of themselves — awakenings, illuminations.
From reveries on the Prom I turn up Congress toward Hill Top Coffee where my cappuccino’s ready. Cafés and caffeine sped up the French Enlightenment you know.
A more intellectual mystery than my morning’s sacred, visceral intrusions is cosmos — holistic connections. A child in Sudan is scooped up from disaster by an adopting family in Montreal. Despite chaos, things link: a child is picked up, earth ties into sky, squirrels consort with nuts. Bach links to Blue Grass. At the Big Bang or Birth, disconnect begins. But we have memory and yearn for the atom in me to connect to the atom in you.
No Thing is an Island, Entire of Itself. Cosmos is habitat for humanity. It’s where we live and move and have our being. Mystery type two: Cosmos
From reveries over-looking the bay to coffee I circle home. In my study, I reach for Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. The title signals an austere type of mystery, the mystery of being itself — of my being here, of things being here (rather than not). The bottom line is Being, not Nothing. But it’s a mystery why there’s cosmos rather than void, fullness rather than nothingness. Mystery type three: Being.
Being is like God just being there. In faith, always there. In doubt, not obviously there. In tragedy God seems to have deserted us. There’s Haiti and massacre in Las Vegas. Here’s Shakespeare (Richard II):
of comfort let no man speak: Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; Make dust our paper — and with rainy eyes Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
Massacre slaps mystery away. Slaps being and God away.
Reality has many faces, not all of them bright, not all of them dark. In dark reality, music can lift us. Yo Yo Ma played a pint sized cello at seven in the White House for President Kennedy. Such class and decorum!!
Reality has many faces. Of music – and carnage. A good friend from this congregation writes: “Through mystery we sense a glory in things despite all their ambiguity. The rose is really beautiful even though it pricked my finger and in a few days will be wilted.” There’s glory in the rose, in the cosmos, in Being — and in God. God, like Being, is a mystery, and absorbs dissonance. Pain, evil and absence invade.
We live in difficult reality. “. . . with rainy eyes — Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.” Perhaps the greatest mystery – a fourth level, as I see it — is the uncanny transitions we make from sorrow or boundless despair to faith, to sunrise and glory. It’s unfathomable – to me — that we don’t – most of us — get stuck more often in the dark that’s always lurking — or just inescapably there.
Renewal of lost mysteries is possible. This morning I saw a Monarch butterfly, common in my childhood — less so now. A pest in my back yard, Black Swallowwort. It threatens Monarchs. If I pull it up and bag the pods I make things easier for Monarch mysteries.
In Genesis, God gives us life, light, humankind, the mysteries of blooms and Monarchs, of Cosmos and Being. They’re offered not as cognitive certainties but as goose bump inescapabilities.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19.
God and Her glory are mysteries. Writing out our word “God,” Jews often type “G – D” – the dash a refusal to spell out the mystery. Let it be. Muslims refuse portraits of the divine.
Humor turns me from pain. I asked a friend, Does God laugh in the Bible? She twinkles. “Well, it shows God isn’t Jewish.” There’s a Yiddish quip: Men scheme – God laughs. Men explain — God laughs at the silly efforts. Let the mystery be! Theologians can wise-crack. “What did God do before starting creation?” His students asked Luther this. My friend tells me that Luther shot back, “God made Hell — for you who ask such questions!”
Mystery — whether of the rose, the cosmos, Being, or God — is essential for meaning. It informs our loves, attachments and passions. But the blessings of mystery can be troubling. There are mysteries close to the heart: love and attraction, smiles and silence; heaven and hell. Dickinson sings mystery: “Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell.”
The smile of a child is unmixed. But our emotional lives are tangled — smiles and shutters, laughter and bursts . . . from the 32nd floor. We live in difficult, troubled realities.
The heart can be vexed, both happy and miserable. Barack Obama said that leaving off Malia at Harvard was like open heart surgery. He loved and hated her departure. Dickinson wrote him a line: “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.” We don’t know what we have till it’s gone. Parting boggles the heart or breaks it. It’s a mystery of a dark sort, a dissonance underlying the rose softly singing.
To be human is to be attached – to family, place, friends, fellow worshipers. When strong attachments are weakened it hurts. With weak connections, parting is uneventful. When attachments are strong, parting is heaven and hell.
Can joy at Christ-risen simply wipe out the pain of Christ-tortured? The soul, the cosmos, is vexed. “Talk of graves; and with rainy eyes, Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.” Barren sorrow is not the last word, nor is death in Sandy Hook. But I don’t understand my mysterious transitions from hopelessness to hope, from despair to faith. Mysteries of lilies or cosmos, of souls or God, or the transitions from hopelessness to hope – these give me heart. But how I’m given heart is a mystery.
Christianity is as complex, contradictory, multi-faceted and mysterious as the hearts that act on its precepts and half-comprehend its narratives. We wrestle and lurch and find comfort with a narrative that swings from joy to disaster to joy – and try to make sense of it all. The Gospel is good news — and it’s vexed news of partings, telling us all we know of heaven — and all we need of hell. Men and women dodge, explain, analyze — and so abandon the lifeboats: abandon faith, mystery, glory. God’s amused. She smiles and wishes we’d just let the mysteries be – sad or happy as they may be.
ED MOONEY, OCT 8, 2017, STATE STREET CHURCH