What is mystery?
Often people think of mystery as a problem to be solved. When we read a mystery book or watch a mystery on TV, if we are smart, observant, and persistent we can solve the mystery.
Christians talk about mystery as something which is ultimately unknowable. God is, of course, the ultimate mystery. We might also talk about the mystery of faith or the mystery of Christ’s presence at the Eucharist.
Just because something is ultimately unknowable in its entirety doesn’t mean we can’t know some things. God is known to us and yet also ultimately unknowable, a mystery to us.
One pitfall for us comes when we think of mystery solely in terms of unknowability. We might think if we can’t know, why try?
Why think about the mystery of faith? Why think about Christ’s presence? The Sacraments are something beyond our understanding so we should be obedient and participate but not worry about understanding.
Or we might get frustrated with our limited knowledge and say to ourselves why bother? I can’t understand so I will not participate.
Or we might say we can’t understand this rationally so it must be some sort of magic. Not real.
There is another way to approach mystery, a way which involves knowing rather than unknowing.
When modern people talk about knowledge and knowing we tend to think of facts and cognitive ability.
I know the alphabet.
I know how to multiply.
I know the way to Kansas City.
This sort of knowing is important. We can know things about God and the sacraments and faith. We can know things about the Bible. There is a cognitive component to these things.
But there is also another way of knowing.
I know my spouse loves me.
I know when I read Hemingway that I am reading fiction and yet I also know I am reading truth.
Great art and great music help us know more about the world and ourselves.
There is a knowing that comes from being in nature.
There is my certainty that I am known by God.
This sort of knowing is not so much cognitive ascent or learned facts as it is….what?
Is it intuitive? Is it some sort of memory? Is it the result of experience? Perhaps it is all of these. Or perhaps it is something else.
I suppose if we could describe it, it wouldn’t be mystery.
For those how have eyes to see and ear to hear, we know it when we see and hear it.
This sort of knowing comes from outside ourselves and also from deep within ourselves. Often at the same time. For some of us,even many of us, this sort of knowing makes us uncomfortable. We can’t describe mystery. We can’t accurately name mystery. We can’t control mystery. But if we wish to live beyond the superficial and the transient we find that we must trust mystery.
But how? How can we trust mystery?
This is one of the reasons we need each other. To share our experiences of mystery, of God. To help each other recognize the mystery of God. To help each other interpret our experience of mystery. To journey together into the mystery that is God.