My friend Christopher says that each and every human is a theotropic enigma – theotropic meaning “God-facing” and enigma meaning “mystery.” Ever since he broke it down for me in his book, With Gladness, I started looking for those God-facing mysteries in the world around me.
I saw it in Costco: an older man held up bunch after bunch of bananas, sniffing each of them. Finally, he closed his eyes, tilted his head back and exhaled an audible sigh.
He’d found his bunch of bananas …and he’d shown his theotropic enigma of a human self, as one who delights in finding and knowing a perfect piece of fruit.
I saw it while on a walk with the dog: there exists a bounty of Dog People, folks who can’t help but nuzzle up with the canines in their midst. Now that Rufus Lucky Meredith is in our life, I’ve been reminded of such people – of the woman talks in a squeaky cartoon voice, of the man who won’t stop jabbering away about the brilliance of a particular leash, a particular brand of dog food, a particular trail in the woods that has changed everything. (For the record, this man also can’t stop talking about his own dog, as should be the case).
While I’m sure Cat People live here on this earth as well, I see beauty and joy in abundance in these God-facing mysteries I come across on our walks. Their enthusiasm is catching.
All of this fills my heart with gladness, to say the least.
Lately, just as I’ve tried to make eye contact and “smize” (which means “to smile with your eyes,” according to good folks at Urban Dictionary), I’ve tried to see the theotropic enigmas who cross my path everyday.
And I don’t know about you, but lately this has felt more challenging than ever before.
In California, where we live, a mandatory mask update is still in place. At first, when the stay-at-home orders ensued and various mandates were put into action, there was a general air of jolliness about the whole thing. I remember queueing up at the grocery store the day before the world (seemingly) shut down: See ya in a couple of weeks! We got this! What’s two weeks of quarantining at home, when it comes to the bigger picture?
But when two weeks turned into two months, into six months and now, into a year, a fair amount of jolliness receded. No longer did strangers in the extroverted town I live in give eye contact, but they intentionally avoided my gaze altogether. If we met on a sidewalk, a more-than wide berth ensued, the efforts of honoring one another with six feet of space instead a turn towards fear of the unknown.
I suppose this is why Christopher’s words meant so much to me: I needed them, because I too had forgotten to see the theotropic enigmas alive and well in my neighbors.
Instead of remembering that the pandemic has affected each of us in different ways, I felt disgruntled when someone didn’t return my friendly greeting. Instead of respecting that some of us hold within our bodies anxiety and depression that deeply affects how we interact with the world, I took it personally. And instead of the human in me honoring the human in you, I’d just shake my head in frustration, unable to remember that the way I see the world is not necessarily universal.
So, I’m trying.
With Christopher’s words niggling in the back of my head, I’m remembering.
I’m walking down the street and I’m giving a wide berth to the humans I come across – but as I do so, I’m nodding my head, I’m putting my smiling eyes into practice, and I’m extending a greeting, regardless of response.
Really, I’m just seeking to see the theotropic enigmas present in the world around me.
What about you?
Theotropic enigmas: what a fancy phrase, indeed. But I’m curious to hear how you’re seeing the God-facing mysteries in the world around you! Also, be sure to pick up a copy of With Gladness if you haven’t already – it’s perfect for the Lenten season.
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