I love mysteries. I’ve written two (please, God, a publisher!) and have read hundreds. I cut my teeth on Sherlock Holmes, own several collections of the tales including the ultra-nerdy annotated version. This is probably why I am not fond of “sequels” or most of the film versions of characters I see so clearly in my own mind. For my money Murder By Decree and Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr., come the closes to my personal and infallible interpretation of the Holmes canon. To prove the exception makes the rule, I also enjoyedThe Adventures of Schlock Holmes, which contains a scene in which Holmes is talking to Watson about his disguise. Watson says in amazement, “You were a full six inches shorter!” to which Holmes replies, “Special shoes…” But I digress…
The whole point of the mystery as literary genre is to solve the problem, a gift that is both skill and cross for me. You see, if you’re reasonably good at solving problems it becomes unreasonably irritating when something escapes your attempts to define, categorize, explain and de-mystify it.
Enter today’s reading:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes…
I have since checked out half a dozen translations and they all use “things.” Somehow or another, today I heard ”mysteries, ” and that happy mistake led me off to a new and different place. I have heard that snippet of scripture often, and until this morning, took “revealed” to mean “explained.” In what can only be described as a palm-plant sort of moment, it dawned on me that that isn’t the case at all. Revealing isn’t explanation at all, at least not knowing in the walking-around knowledge sense . Jesus alluding to, I think, of knowing in the relational sense. Today I heard a real caution not to let too much thought get in the way of God. To know him in the sense of relating to Him, not in the sense of explaining Him, which is a fool's errand in any case.
In my defense, it’s an honest enough mistake. In mysteries—the book kind—the reveal is where everything is explained. You’ve read it or seen it many times—the Great Detective brings the entire cast of characters into a room and in dramatic fashion explains everything, the murderer confesses or tries to escape, the law nabs the culprit and all ends happily. It’s considered poor literary form, by the way, to write a mystery that doesn’t give all the clues so that a sharp reader (that would be me) can solve the puzzle right alongside the Great Detective.
But God is not a Puzzle to be solved. He is a Person to be encountered, in some manner understood, but never explained, never solved, never an exercise to be counted among life’s accomplishments. Revelation in this context seems mean something very different than it does in my beloved mysteries—a simpler, deeper, richer, harder, more complicated meaning of the term: Someone shown forth for Who He is. And that is mystery in the religious sense: a reality that cannot be known by the machinations of mind and logic alone. a reality that requires the deepest response of our whole being, spirit and mind and faith all together, a response to God’s showing Himself forth in creation, in Christ, in the Church, in our brothers, in our lives, in all the world.
This is—of course--a definition of mystery I have repeated many times to myself and others, a caution I have made many times in the course of years of teaching the faith. No more than I seek to define and explain my husband, can or should I seek to define and explain God. The understanding, the knowledge, comes not so much from fact as it does from experience. Funny how the most familiar things are the most profound when once one takes a moment to stop and really let them seep in.
That kind of learning is what babes do—they experience their parents in relationship to them, and the experience that gives rise to a sort of knowledge that is so bound up with that relationship that it can be lived—for better or worse-- without much conscious thought, so intimate that it colors everything we do, everything and everyone we encounter. Completely Other, intimate and entirely beyond us, all at the same time.
I’ll still enjoy my mysteries. I’ll still spend hours and hours immersed in books because piecing things together really is one of my gifts and it gives me great, unfettered delight to figure something out.
I hope I’ll remember that that’s not an end in itself. The great good of all that thought and puzzle-solving comes not in conquering a mound of facts or in explanations but in bringing me into closer relationship with God and man. His gift to me, mine back to Him
And that remains, thanks be, a mystery all its own, before which I am happy to sit in wonder at the beauty of it all. Rather like a child.