We don’t create a lot of space in our lives for the mysterious. If you watch any day time television talk show (only when I’m sick or something, and then, only long enough to marvel) it’s obvious that people these days are all too anxious to show us everything they’ve got- all the ugly, all the crazy, all the everything. There is nothing left to mystery. In a scientific age, “mystery” itself is often a seven-letter, four-letter word, somehow unacceptable. We want so badly to be able to define, to categorize, and to label, because we believe doing so gives us control of our lives.
Life is tiger on a leash; it can’t be controlled, it’s wild and complex, beautiful, dangerous, and frightening, and one of its most beautiful features is its mystery. We try to banish mystery from our lives at our peril. Bonhoeffer says that a human life is worth only as much as the respect it holds for mystery. Living without mystery means remaining oblivious to our own hidden qualities and those of others, remaining only on the surface, and seeing the world only as something to be calculated and exploited, devoid of wonder and awe.
Children, who are wiser than we, understand this truth. They view the world with wide eyes and open mouths, capturing all of life’s intricacies and unexplained phenomena, and accept and savor them, rather than dissecting and classifying. Nowhere do we see this wonder more clearly than at Christmas. Yet, the everyday world is full of mystery for those who have eyes to see.
Remember when your firstborn came into the world? Was it for you what it was for me: perhaps the most intensely visceral experience of your life? Life, in all its color and grandeur and terror and beauty, wrapped into one intense package? Feeling faint, euphoric, and terrified, simultaneously? And, then, the absolute mystery of laying eyes on this being, this life for the first time, and truly marveling at how you could possibly love someone you had only just met so deeply and profoundly that all your other earthly priorities took a backseat in a split second? The closest I’ll come on this side to peering into the face of God. Mysterious.
Or, the woman who held that life in her arms that day: what about that woman? How can you know someone so deeply and so intimately over time that you learn all their frailties and weaknesses, all their petty insecurities, made even more overwhelming in that they mirror and heighten your own, and yet, far from being repelled and driven from them, you are paradoxically, magnetically drawn to them, now, years later, loving them in a way that is to the attraction on your wedding day as the gospel of Christ is to a Hallmark card? Mysterious.
Or, that song you’ve heard a million times, and ought to be sick of by now, but that pierces your soul every time you hear it? Or, the way a sunset always makes you stop, stare, and reflect, no matter how many thousands you’ve seen before? Any attempts to explain, to categorize, to define, ring empty and hollow, the finite hopelessly attempting to capture the divine. Mystery is God’s whisper resonating through an often-deaf world.
Of course, the greatest mystery of all is that the God of the universe, the One who spoke all that is into being and who keeps the galaxies together by His very breath, would so desperately want you that He would condense all the magnificence of His being into one like that little life you met and began to love in that hospital room on that first day. A life that was completely dependent on a poor teenage girl for feeding, for diaper changing, for moving around, and for life itself. A life born to die a hideous death, to actually become death itself for us. A life raised from the dead, taking on a new human body, a God in human form, still existing as God and human, standing in the gap for you and speaking on your behalf at the right hand of God the Father.
The greatest mystery of life is the inscrutability of Christmas: that God became man to forge a bond with us, and between us, turning enemies into family, and making the futile real.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.