The Trembling Mystery

It’s become too easy a thing for us to appeal to the great outlier, to ‘mystery.’ Mystery is a word that should be spoken (if it must be uttered at all) with gravity, with at least the hint of tremor. An appeal to mystery does not relieve us of hard thinking. God knows it does not relieve us of the need for steely-eyed courage. It’s a mystery should never be the tagline diffusing all the tension, but rather the invitation to gather up all the fortitude we can muster and walk deeper into the mercy that perplexes and astounds us.

If we have never sat dumbstruck in front of a blue-swept mountain ridge…if the sorrows of a friend have never sunk like icy lead into our chest…if a single word from a stranger or one line from a novel has never caught our breath…if we’ve never felt the terror and aloneness of Gethsemane – then we are so new and green to this twisting and very long path. And there is no shame in being new; in fact, these virgin days provide their own beauty and wonder. However, these are the days we must learn to listen more than we speak.

John Ames, a Congregationalist pastor in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, learned this silence: “I’m not going to apologize for the fact that there are things I don’t understand. I’d be a fool if I thought there weren’t. And I’m not going to force some theory on a mystery and make foolishness of it, just because that is what people who talk about it normally do.” To walk amid mysteries, at least in a way that is faithful and true, often requires a simple skill – the courage to go mute, to refuse to add words when only silence will do.

To speak of mystery does not make all difficult things light and free. The fact that mysteries surround us may allow the world in which we live to be honest or bearable or once again overwhelmed with grace – but mysteries, if they are true, require grit and patience and bravery.