Those of us who traffic in religious concepts let "mystery" roll easily off our tongues, relegating to that category much of eternity's involvement in time. Roman Catholics are especially fond of the term, but, I detect, their invocation of the concept has spread to other saints who owe no allegiance to the Vatican. The Orthodox branch of Christianity (think Greek and Russian), before and after 1054, steep their worship in mystery as thick as the smoke from the incense which rises from the altar. And it, mystery, is helpful in explaining (or, better, not explaining) the effect of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Plus, old Scottish poet, William Cowper, has taught Calvinists and other Protestants to sing, "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform."
Don't read into the preceding any cavalier tone. I come not to bury mystery but to cite evidence of its presence among us in other venues.
Beginning with the gym to which my bride and I repair thrice weekly. On my way out the door Wednesday Jim, clothed only in shower droplets, wondered by way of tweaking the reverend, just why those who seem so intent on making it to heaven usually seem equally intent on delaying their arrival there. It's a - well, let's not call it a mystery, but dress it up in the King of Siam's synonym - a puzzlement. Certainly we would not fault an atheist for holding on for dear life, were there any glimmer of comfort and satisfaction yet to be gained from a future. But why would the faithful rail against God when, for instance and in my pastoral hearing, a daughter grieved the death of her ninety year old mother, demanding to know from me and God, "Why?!" Suicide bombers, whether for Allah or the Rising Sun, may go to their deaths shouting praises, but most of the Christians I know cling to life as do the ship-wrecked to flotsam in an endless sea. Nor do I exempt myself from this faithful contradiction.
Yes, it's a puzzlement.
Like the present economic mess we are in. Two prescriptions for relief are touted. One claims we must spend, spend, spend our way out of the financial doldrums, for only as money flows can more money become available. The other prescription claims we must save, save, save; that only by returning to the virtuous thrift of an earlier moment in American history can our economy become fundamentally strong. It's a struggle... between John Maynard Keynes and John Calvin? No wonder Carlyle named economics the "dismal science." Dismal, that is, murky, and shrouded in mystery. It's a puzzlement. Is it more patriotic for me to increase my savings or deplete them, either way for the common good?
Going from the subprime to the nearly scatological, consider the advice my doctors give me. At the end of the annual check-up my internist reminds me in the somberest of tones that I should eat properly, by which he means lots of fruit and vegetables and only a smidgeon of pepperoni. But when I complain to the gastroenterologist about painful gas attacks, he cautions me to avoid ingesting leafy vegetables, nuts, and fruit, which apparently have a tendency to sequester themselves in the diverticula of the intestine and ferment until... well, they become gaseous. It's a puzzlement. Which would I prefer to die from, a clogged artery or a perforated intestine? Starvation is not an option.
This mortal life, no less than any immortal soul, is filled with mysteries, contradictions, and, nodding again toward the King of Siam, puzzlements.
The longer I live the more certain I am to be uncertain. I have survived any number of predictions of the end of the world, whether by Armageddon or oil shortage. I have witnessed an endless parade of nostrums promising to rid this mortal mind of afflictions seen and unseen; but anxiety persists. I have participated in the euphoria attending the end of the Cold War, only to find myself in a schoolyard on a late summer day in September of 2001 catching a whiff of the fires a week earlier at the southern tip of Manhattan. Thousands of years of human history and we still have not learned how to live together peaceably. I can repeat for myself, and a few billion more of us, Paul's confession that the good I would I do not, but the evil I would not is what I do. The brave new world is, well, the "brave new world" of Huxley.
It's a puzzlement.
But an absorbing one, if filled with frustration and exasperation, still capable of charming and delighting us.
I suspect that's the way God made it; so that, in the words of Adelaide Proctor, "earth's bliss might be our guide, and not our chain."
Now I'll treat myself to some pepperoni and cashews. Want some?