Surprise! As it turns out, I do like mystery! Not mystery novels, not mystery movies, but mystery. The ever-faithful dictionary describes mystery like this: truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand, something inexplicable, enigmatic. I would add, something left alone, untampered with, to be contemplated, even savored, not despite but because of, its character beyond our ken.
Years ago, as a college music student, I had a class called Music Theory. Even the name sounds deadly, doesn’t it? (It was.) One of the exercises given was to take musical scores and analyze their chord structure, progression, dissonance, and resolution. In other words, break them down, take them apart, not unlike the unspeakable fate inflicted on frogs by those in a biology lab. I believe the comparison to be apt, though I was never one of ‘those’ people. But back to the subject at hand. Debussy and Mendelssohn were never so cruelly disrespected! There we were, young college students, dis-mantling their respective genius, with the goal of de-mystifying the soaring beauty of ‘La Mer,’ ‘Song Without Words.’ And it was a soul-numbing assignment, with hours and hours of analysis. Once laid bare, bereft of mystery and enchantment, just a complex series of VI, III, tonic, dominant, sub-dominant, they were but piteous sheets of paper with multiple erasures and even more pencil scratchings.
I have a similar reaction to the popular ‘behind the scenes’ features on DVDs. I don’t want to know ‘how.’ I don’t want to see the actors out of character. I don’t want the director to explain the point of every scene, every close-up, every tilt of the star’s head. Enough already! Just let me watch the show, lost in suspended disbelief (my apologies to those shaking their heads right now).
Frederick Buechner says this about mystery: ‘There are mysteries you can solve by taking thought. For instance, a murder mystery whose mysteriousness must be dispelled in order for the truth to be known.
There are other mysteries that do not conceal a truth to think your way to, but whose truth is itself the mystery. The mystery of your self, for example. The more you try to fathom it, the more fathomless it is revealed to be. No matter how much of your self you are able to objectify and examine, the quintessential, living part of your self will always elude you, that is, the part that is conducting the examination. Thus, you do not solve the mystery, you live the mystery. And you do that not by fully knowing yourself, but by fully being yourself.
To say that God is a mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.’ Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith, 2004, p. 267.
Here’s a mystery whose truth is itself the mystery: ‘God is love.’ Try not solving, but living it. PD