Ah, well, mystery sounds to be a wonderful thing. There is in the concept a lovely mist, a suggestion of breadth, a hint of wholeness – holiness even. There is a beyond and a greater, a more and a majestic. But surety… well, it’s just much more practical. And let’s face it, it can be depended upon. We can stand on it, and it’s not going anywhere.
Given a choice between mystery and surety, most of us would likely choose what’s sure. Western culture is committed to the pragmatic, the solution-oriented, the idiot’s guide to you-name-it, to arriving at our pre-determined destination – with our GPS or accurate GoogleMap or MapsOnUs printout that showed each step of the way.
Mystery? Well, it doesn’t just show up in the grand. It’s a part of every day life – and it’s sometimes darn uncomfortable. We go to workshops to learn how to manage it. We speedread a grief book to get past it. We take a shot or a pill, or put down a bet, to be rid of it. We take relational indicators for online dating to define a compatibility before risking it. We fill schedules and keep sound going in our homes to avoid it. We buy organizing closets and consultants to straighten it. We oversleep or overmedia to anesthetize from it. We read medical websites to be amateur experts on it. We color or collagen to forget it. We get degrees, get consultants, get a plan, get ahead, get a lead, get ANYTHING to have something in our hands that we’ve GOTTEN that makes sense of things or puts things in place.
NCIS is one of my all time favorite television shows. At the end of an hour, I’m pretty sure of what’s happened in a case. Ah, but the characters – Tony, Gibbs, Abby, Tim, Ducky, Ziva, oh – and Jimmy and Leon – they are familiar (well-loved!), and yet they are mysteries. And they are mysteries to themselves at least as much as they are to one another. That’s one of the things that brings me back to see the show week after week, at least as much as the story lines: the fun of watching the communication between all these mysteries in process as the mystery they work on is wrestled with, strategized and revealed. Their work confronts the unknown and often uncomfortable – violence, death, human motivation, great commitment, evil, good, subterfuge, truth, deception, power, powerlessness. In the hour they come to some – pleasant or not – outcomes. But what about they themselves? What outcomes do they reach? And anyway, what is outcome in a life? It’s a walking in mystery step by step. We come to see each cast member over time – in and out of relationships, aging, finding their way, seeking meaning, engaging in commitments that define them, and seeking commitments they want to define them. And we like who they are, though they are characters in a show. We care about how they live out who they are, and the step by step journey, especially when it is difficult or dark. We’ve seen them emerge, be shaped by their experiences, and give differently to their next moment because of the last ones. We can see that the mystery of their lives is really okay… and we root for them.
It’s easier to be at ease with mystery and where it takes us when we look at someone else’s life, or at NCIS! Inside our own lives, mysteries can feel scary or overwhelming, out of control or just annoying. Large transitions, big successes, terrible losses – these bring us face to face with mystery in life. Death, joy, love, children, commitment, betrayal, birth, passion, vocation, ecstactic moments, the quick-slow flow of time, creating, releasing – in all of these we find ourselves encountering a more, a mystery.
The fact is, regardless of whether we prefer surety or not, and regardless of what amount of energy and money we spend seeking it, mystery finds us. How can we ever come to be at home with it?
I’m convinced that escaping it is the wrong move. First, it’s not possible. This makes it not just the wrong move, but a kind of dumb one! (Not that I don’t take – and haven’t taken – it many times myself!). Second, it makes of our life a fleeing from what is, instead of a standing in what is.
I believe learning to live at home with mystery takes practice and practice and more practice… done simply and peacefully. It takes standing in a moment that is mystery and breathing. It takes not running, but being in it – whatever the emotions it engenders – and just noticing what arises. The emotions are reactions – the thoughts too. The mystery is the truth we encounter.
At this time, before Lent quite lands in our living, I think about the paschal MYSTERY. Of course, death and resurrection in the life of Jesus are mystery. And isn’t it in our lives as well? We live in the same pattern of dying and rising, ebb and flow. Christian faith tells us it is good to live there. What? Really? Are you SERIOUS? Good to live DEATH and resurrection? This is a mystery that we come to know in fall and spring, death and birth, endings and beginnings. Notice, I didn’t say I entirely ‘get it’ or am comfortable with the pattern either. It just IS the pattern. It’s one embraced by God who lived it fully in Jesus. Get it? No. Living it? Yeah. With him. Yeah, how else? I am still practicing too!
It may be good to remember that we are trained culturally to maximize our focus on the solution, the strategy, the rising, what we think is the good. We try to minimize or avoid the unknowing, the costs, the cluelessness, the unpredictable, what looks like ultimate endings from our limited view. No wonder we often have such problems with life as it is. We are not doing life wrong somehow if we experience ebbs and flows, if we know mountains and valleys, death and resurrection… we are experiencing life. If we think to experience life only as flow or highs or understandable graspable joys, we are apt to be projecting what we want life to be like on the wall and trying to jump into our own projection! It isn’t real. Joy can only be here – in where we are. And God with us here.
So, enjoy surety when it arises. Find the perfect recipe, the perfect route to Grandma’s house, the best mechanical anything (I don’t do mechanical!), a really good tech practice. But expect mystery to show up everywhere. And, if we can, let’s think of the learnings of NCIS! Perhaps if we can learn, as an exercise, to watch our lives from the outside a little, we may be able to accomodate more and value more the mysteries that we are, the mysteries we encounter, and the mysteries of one another. And even enjoy them… smile at them… laugh knowingly at them (a great Abby look!).
Don’t go play CLUE after reading this. It has an answer. Go, be clueless for awhile. Happily.