Embrace the Mystery: Being Embraced by Mystery

You’ve most likely heard the expression, “God works in mysterious ways.” But the problem with this statement is that it’s not found in the Bible. It sounds as if it should be. It sounds like a Proverb—like a very, very wise statement. But this often quoted statement is nowhere to be found within our pages of Scripture. It is inferred in a hymn which William Cowper penned in the 19th century. There he says, "God moves in a mysterious ways; His wonders to perform; He plans His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm." But Cowper uses the metaphor of ocean waves and white-capping stormy seas to help us grasp how mystery happens—how God rides the wings of mystery to help us know him and to know God’s ways. But just because we can’t find something in the Bible does not mean that it is not true—that God does indeed move in a mysterious way. I confess that I’m at a point in my life now where I am seeing the “mysterious ways” of God more than I ever have before. Circumstances, events, divine appointments, sacred interruptions, and more can call converge in our lives to give us the distinct impression, if not realization that God, indeed moves in mysterious ways. Take a look at the image I've posted here. This huge, sweeping cloud enveloping our big, red barn at the Potter's Inn retreat. This photograph is iconic for me because just looking at it causes something to stir in me. How about you? I heard a friend describing an accident that he narrowly avoided. What could have been a fatal car crash was avoided by slowing down to avoid a deer in the road only to have “just barely” missed being T-boned by a driver texting on their cell phone. Was this a mysterious way? What if I had not been at the Christmas party where I had met Gwen 40 years ago? Was that a mysterious way? We met. I knew on the spot and right in that place that she would be my wife. I did marry her and that night is etched on my mind as clear as the sun is in the sky from the place I am writing this today. What can you recall in your own life about a “mysterious way” where circumstances or events so aligned to bring providence at your feet and the clouds parted and fog lifted and somehow you just knew that the next step was an ordained step that you simply “had” or were privileged to take? In our sophisticated, technologically driven world, there seems to be little room for the mysterious movings of a clandestine God who arranges circumstances as he arranges planets in their orbit. We are logical. We are linear. We are rational people for crying out loud. So what room do we make for mystery? An event has happened in my life that has no real explanation except for mystery. We’ve prayed. We’ve asked for clarity. We have sought discernment. We have gotten counsel. Yet, in all the things we’ve done and not done, no one could have orchestrated what has happened. No one.  A mystery has unfolded. A mystery has swept across me that is larger than the cloud sweeping over the barn. I will tell this story soon in another post but for today I just want us to sit in the mystery. A mystery explained takes the bones out of the body of a mystery. I am only left to conclude that mystery has been at work. I am left to believe, yet again that God is loving and his ways are loving despite what my present circumstances might say. My pain and suffering does not absolve this mystery. What seems awful; what seems negative; what seems catastrophic may really only be the fodder for the brooding of the Mystery. What seems like chaos; what seems like rejection, what appears to be evil may in fact be good yeast in the leaven of the loaf of my life. After all, the story of Joseph, the brother who was betrayed by his jealous siblings; beaten and left for dead, reveals the mystery that I am trying to explain here. Joseph was taken in by people who put him in the high places of govenment and in those very and precise, high places, Joseph was able to take care of his very own family who had done him in. How can we grasp today what Joseph teaches us? In the end, Joseph confesses the role of mystery in his life—a mystery that helps inform our own. We read: “Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart” (Gen. 50:20-22, Message). God used what was intended for evil and morphed it into good. I call this mystery. The mystery to consider is this: What was intended for evil actually—mysteriously—morphed into good. Embracing the MysteryThe work of spiritual discernment is to plow up the fallow ground of our lives; to do the inner work of spiritual awareness and spiritual awakening to see God in all things. Joseph saw and awakened to God’s movement in the circumstances of his life in a way he could have never, ever imagined. This is what it means to awaken. This is what it means to become more aware. This is what it means to behold and witness the mystery of God moving.Ignatius of Loyola founded a movement, 400 years ago, that embraced this core value to those who began to call themselves, Jesuits. “Finding God in all things” became their motto—their mantra—their own invitation to see God in mystery and not in just a rational, linear and logical way of experiencing God. It takes a bit of mystery to find God in ways we could never envision finding God. In a journey of investing twelve months of plowing up my own fallow ground, I could have never imagined how the answer to my prayers would have unfolded. What has happened is beyond me. It is beyond words. It is mystery.Followers of Jesus in the past embraced more mystery than we do today. We are an educated people today. We disdain the ignorant ways. In our quest to know everything, we may have attempted to de-throne the Spirit of God.Our spiritual parents lit candles to signify the mystery. Today we use our iphones.Clouds are always a suggestion of mystery in the Bible. Today, we are more concerned with the iCloud.We use to walk in nature to behold the mystery. Today, we scroll through pages of social media.Churches use to be called "sanctuaries" where we would sing, confess and bow to the Mystery. Now we watch, perform, and are talked at--and alot.We use to talk about being "spoken to" in church. Today we are Powerpoint driven and perhaps even addicted. Mystery has been replaced by the world that is driven by our left brains: logical, linear, rational and lined up.  Yet in all of this, where is the space for mystery.Questions for Consideration: 1. How would you define mystery?2. When have you encountered mystery that literally changed your life or the direction of your life?3. How can you make room for mystery in your life now?

The Gift of Bewilderment

A shell like this opened my heart in a way that hearing seven points about God could never do. “Only at the periphery of our lives, where we, and our understanding of God, are undone, can we understand bewilderment as an occasion for another way of knowing.”   Belden Lane There is nothing like being the only one walking on a desolate beach in the cool dawn of morning and stumbling upon a beautiful, broken shell that speaks to you. Now of course you know that I don’t mean the shell said something, yet it was as if, it did. I couldn’t help but plunge into the wonder of its delicate markings that formed a spiraling circle, as if to be the very mapping of the journey my heart was on. I couldn’t help but go subterranean, that place deep inside where there is no vocabulary to articulate the feeling or what I knew to be true. I was in awe, speechless. So much was being said and I was listening intently. Pondering the beautiful and the brutal of what I was ushered into left me silent and still. I dared not move for fear of losing the very encounter that my heart always longs for.So how do I describe to you what it was like for me to encounter God through a shell? It was strangely sacred, like God and I have this private exchange about the realities that are too deep for human words, so paradoxical, the silent beautiful and brutal truths mingling together way down deep, with just God and me. At times like this a gnawing frustration burrows deep too. What do I do with these wordless ponderings? The painful emotions of grief and the soothing comfort of the salt air undo me. I’m left bewildered by my inexpressible soul.While being steeped in stillness for a while, God showed me something about myself and about himself. Frustration was coming from trying so hard not to be bewildered by the deep stirrings in my heart. I was actually trying to make common sense out of something holy. God assured me of the need for quite the opposite. My bewilderment is blessed and not to be boxed up and clearly identified. Bewilderment is, as Belden Lane expresses, “an occasion for another way of knowing God. “ To be undone by the ripping grief of death is an occasion for another way of knowing God. Consoled by the beauty of strolling on a lonely beach was an occasion for another way of knowing God. Listening to the loud silence of what a shell had to say was an occasion for another way of knowing God. I didn’t have to articulate and make it understandable. It was all it had to be.To articulate what is deeply spiritual isn’t always the right thing. I wonder if a lot of Christians talk incessantly, preach too long, and teach too much because to remain in mystery is too threatening to their stated faith. Perhaps, we thirst for more information about God than experiencing the mystery of God. To embrace the mystery of the unseen and indescribable is to experience a quiet peace that surpasses the need to explain or understand. And it is a sweet peace that is palpable.Sabbatical often ushered me into this bewildering place and I found myself glad and knowing that I can rest in bewilderment.