The roots of mystery point beyond the idea of a secret, hidden truth to an experience that renders us speechless. It comes from the Latin root muo – literally translated as “shut the mouth” or “to be rendered silent or dumbfounded” and is also the root for the English word “mute.”
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God.
When you cross over from the invisible into this physical world, you bring with you a sense of belonging to the invisible that you can never lose or finally cancel… Because the invisible cannot be seen or glimpsed with the human eye, it belongs largely to the unknown. Still there are occasional moments when the invisible seems to become faintly perceptible… This is precisely what kindles and rekindles all your longing and your hunger to belong. You are both artist and pilgrim of the threshold.
~John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes
I have a friend who speaks of knowledge as an island in a sea of mystery. Let this then, be the ground of my faith: All that we know, now and forever, all scientific knowledge that we have of this world, or ever will have, is as an island in the sea. Still the mystery surrounds us.
Learning more about the world doesn’t lead to a point closer to a final destination – whose existence is nothing but a hopeful assumption anyway – but to more questions and mysteries. The more we know, the more exposed we are to our ignorance, and the more we know to ask.
A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.
~Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
On the way to the play we stopped to look at the stars. And as usual I felt in awe. And then I felt even deeper in awe at this capacity we have to be in awe about something. Then I became even more awestruck at the thought that I was, in some small way, a part of that which I was in awe about. And this feeling went on and on. My space chums got a word for it: ‘awe infinitum.’ ‘Cause at the moment you are most in awe of all you don’t understand, you’re closer to understanding it all then at any other time. And I felt so good inside, my heart felt so full, I decided to set time aside each day to do ‘awe-robics’.”
~Lilly Tomlin as “Trudy the Bag Lady”
In a true encounter with another human being, we come face to face with the mystery of life. In some way, every other person, no matter how well we know them, will remain as mysterious to us as a country across the ocean we only read about in books… whenever we encounter another human being with respect for this essential unknown, we create the possibility for something genuinely new to emerge. In every interaction, whether it is with a stranger or our longtime partner, we can be surprised by what we have not yet seen or even imagined.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far-off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.
My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, were my brothers and sisters.
My soul turns into a tree…
(Curated and adapted for KUF from the 2018 Soul Matters materials for the theme ‘MYSTERY’ by Rev. Beckett Coppola.)