“It’s hard not to look at the ground as you walk, to set your sights low and keep the world spinning, and try to stay grounded wherever you are.” So John Koenig, author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, defines his neologism astrophe: the feeling of being stuck on Earth. “But every so often you remember to look up and imagine the possibilities, dreaming of what’s out there.”
What an amazing paradox: being grounded in a specific time and place and yet being able to look up and stare across time and space into the abyss of infinity. Pondering this, it dawns on me anew how mysterious life is. Even though we live in the age of information, where science is at the helm driving us to truth, the more intelligible life becomes, the more it seems to mystify me.
Maybe this response is connected with my own neurodivergent brain-type. I’ve never been able to fully grasp mathematics or reason scientifically. Even in the discipline of music, which was my area of study, the analytical thinking required for theory and composition were difficult for me. While my own struggles to comprehend have never obstructed my acceptance that the latest advances and discoveries in these fields are true, they have perhaps made me more aware than others of the limitations of such systems of information. The world is full of mysteries, even in realms where facts rule the day. For all the amazing things that we now know about our world and ourselves, there remains much that we have not yet discovered, which we may never be able to explain.
Mystery is not separate from belief, but a vital part of it. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of placing mystery and belief in opposition, as we would knowns and unknowns, fact and fantasy. But mystery is much more, well … mysterious than that. It’s not the absence of knowledge. Mystery is the spark that ignites our curiosity, drawing us beyond ourselves to explore another part of life’s grandeur, sometimes in ways that are (for the time being) ineffable.
During the season of Epiphany we read about ordinary people who experienced extraordinary things, which set them on the journey of belief to recognize the likeness of God in the face of Jesus. What greater mystery can we imagine than this proclamation? Yet this mystery is one that has been repeated across the continents, across the centuries. The wise men from the East journeying to see this baby king, the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove in the waters of the Jordan, the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and His transfiguration on the mountain – these mysteries all made an indelible impression on those around him. Thomas, seeing Jesus risen from the dead, at the invitation to touch his wounds, cried out, “My Lord and my God!” You may remember Jesus’ response, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Perhaps our belief is the greatest mystery of all.
My prayer for each day of my life is that I may see Jesus manifest in the fullness of creation, including my neighbors – those who bear with me despite my own gaffs and seeming contradictions, and those who are strangers that I’ve only witnessed from afar. (I am a mystery; so are they.) I pray that I may wonder at the mystery of this beautiful creation and let it teach me about love, compassion, empathy, and the glory of God. May I remember to “look up” and behold the mystery of God drawing me more and more into belief, a lifetime’s journey. And may I, in the words of our founder Richard Meux Benson: “…not live upon the earth that I may be in heaven, but so to live in heaven that I may show myself to be a temple of God upon the earth!”