For Love of Mystery

I like to read and watch mysteries. Well, really, I like to read and watch a particular genre of mystery – British to start with, because they tend to focus on character development and employ “the little gray cells” rather than trying to scare me or focus on blood and violence (in Hollywood style). I like intrigue over brutality, suspense over explosions and gun fire. I like the normal little murders of people I’m led not to care about, whom no one ever seems to mourn – friendly little murders, if you will, where the role we are drawn into is that of the sleuth, the solver, rather than being another victim watching from the outside not knowing what will happen next. I watch these mysteries again and again – Miss Marple, Poirot, Midsomer Murders, Morse, Endeavor, Lewis (with that dishy Hathaway), Foyle’s War, Cadfael, Miss Fisher…

And I watch uncritically. I watch trusting that the author will reveal what I need to know to make sense of it. I don’t try to figure things out ahead of time, but like to be led along, surprised by the twists of plot and character’s motivations. I like to see the detectives work out the clues. I like to feel frustrated with them and ponder with them and feel the justice of the end when all is brought again to right that ere was lost or lorn.

In watching and re-reading, the detectives become familiar, a well loved book with the pages worn, friends, of sorts, companions. And I trust them.

I am by nature at once suspicious and gullible, so trust is a moving target in much of my life.

The more I am immersed in the literary life of my pastoral vocation, the more I see similar patterns and predilections in my reading and pondering of scripture. I am attracted to the mysterium, the unknown and unknowable nature of God, the parts of the story that take trust to get you there – incarnation, resurrection, redemption – those big churchy words that mean God is doing something, but we don’t know what or how or when. As with Agatha Christie’s mysteries, there’s a twist at the end of the story, I think, when it will all be made clear, when Poirot in his confident reason, or Miss Marple with her mix of fluff and sharp intellect, or Jesus with his parables that almost tell us what he means, will sit with us and lead us through the hints and clues we’ve had along the way, will explain the leaps of faith and valleys of despair and great wonderings and, voilà! it will be made clear, as though we’ve been looking through a dark glass all along.

There are biblical authors I trust more than others – I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but I know there are some whose message and testimony of God working in their lives or through their prophetic words makes sense to me, leads me along right pathways where my wondering can explore and experience and imagine. And there are those whose writings seem to close doors, who present an insistence on God’s way and will that seems at odds with the overall scope and purpose of this mystery. I listen to their words, but find myself drawn back to the familiar favorites.

In luminous blue, in starlight and darkness, Advent and Christmas shimmer with the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“the fearful and fascinating mystery”) into which God comes again and again saying, “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good news of great joy!”

With Jesus born in Bethlehem, the New Testament of God’s embodied Word begins and we discover the depth and height and significance of God’s love for those whom God has formed and claimed – a love fully revealed in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

The Word of God organized the burgeoning forces of life, guided and pushed a people forward, constrained and warned through the law and prophet for the sake of relationships between all people, and now becomes manifest in a particular and unique human. The living Word will move through and even beyond that human life, as the Christ, the anointed one, who calls us still to follow, who pushes us still to move forward, who loves us still – enough to dwell among us in Spirit and truth – even to the end of the age.

The hows and whens will wait for another day, but the story is one we come back to with affection and comfort because it brings the mystery into our lives, our day to day particularities and presence.

I wish you all the wonder of the mystery, all the joy of the deep unknown, and the comfort of the well-loved tale. I wish you trust in the mystery of God’s love.        Merry Christmas                               Pastor Linda