Most of our human existential crises can be traced to a single source: our deep desire to KNOW.
We may expect our friends to keep a lid on what happened in last night’s episode of whatever, until we can get home and catch up on the DVR. But in real life? Forget it. Give us the spoiler alerts. We want to KNOW. We want to know when we’ll find love, and if love will last; we want to know when we’ll land that job, or make that move, or fall into that fortune; we want to know that our retirement is secure, and that we’ll be well enough and mobile enough to enjoy it.
We want to KNOW that life is worthwhile, and meaningful; that our death will be painless. And ultimately–and this the ground in which all our other angst takes root–we want to know what comes after. We want to know what it looks like on the other side. Hell, we just want to know that there IS another side.
We struggle to trust the mystery that our existence is part of something bigger than we can see. We are deeply mistrustful of the unknown.
Well…lately, can you blame us? A quick scan of the newsfeed, on any given day, vindicates our anxiety. It’s nothing but a tapestry of shady corporate interests, corrupt political dealings, and one big question mark after another about who colluded with whom, about what, and who knew about it when.
While this narrative is certainly nothing new on the landscape of American life and politics, it is, at this moment, a pervasive and ominous story unfolding in real time. From day 1, this administration has been nothing but chaos and a frenzy of unanswered questions. It’s no wonder we rail against “mystery.” In every literal sense right now, mystery is darkness, uncertainty, corruption–possibly even widespread death and destruction.
Yes, there should be a large and loud public clamor demanding answers right now. Yes, there should be a non-partisan investigative team assigned to getting to the bottom of this business with Trump and Russia, and all the unknown factors between. We don’t know what we don’t know, and that is deeply unsettling. For the safety of the republic, and the good of the world, we need answers. We need a way of knowing.
But. Let that search not spoil for us the scared nature of mystery… The holy unknowing in which we stake our faith. That space of wondering and wandering and being, that is not connected to an evil Dark Lord, plotting demise of civilization… but to a loving Creator that breathed us to life and called us good. Remember, in the days to come, that there is a distinct difference between the shadowy figures manipulating our sacred democracy, and the mysterious God in which we live and move and have our being.
We can become so saturated by news of one, that we can scarcely recognize the other. That is to our detriment, both as spiritual beings and as a civilization.
In these times of deep mistrust and widespread uncertainty, it is critical that we re-learn the sacred art of dwelling in mystery. Of trusting the holy breath that holds all of us together, however fragile that thread might feel. We cannot let our addiction to the 24-hour news cycle, nor the toxicity of our current public narrative, ruin our appreciation for mystery. Not everything must be answered.
I like to think I’m pretty tapped into the general zeitgeist of public discourse–both political and spiritual. I generally get what people’s damage is. So I know we are reeling right now–afraid, uncertain, and mistrustful. Real answers are needed, and no amount of theological posturing from people like will fix it. I see other religious leaders offering quippy fragments of wisdom, like “God is still in control people, calm down!” or “Trust Jesus and we’ll all be fine!” If you’re like me, you find that brand of inspiration both profoundly unhelpful, and more than a little sanctimonious. God being God does not diminish the damage that a toxic administration can do to real human lives.
So I won’t try to explain away the danger of our current scenario by pointing to a higher power. I’m just reminding us all–myself included–that there’s a point at which, for our own health and spirits, we have to be able to extract the dark unknowns of political discourse from the lovely mysteries of our createdness. Not all uncertainty is bad. Not all unanswered questions point to destructive darkness. In fact, in anxious times like these, the ability to embrace mystery becomes an active form of resistance.
The darkness of that which we do not know is the top headline. That story invites us to dwell in fearful chaos, and mistrust of our neighbor. We reject that narrative by leaning into the sacred potential of unknowing. Times like these call for a particular kind of prayer. Yes, we will act and demand answers. We will call our representatives until they are sorry they gave us their number. We will push for accountability and the Constitutional separation of powers, over and above party line…
And then, we will recommit ourselves to the work of being human; recognizing the lovely invitation of the unanswered question, the unseen God… Here’s a prayer, for just such a time as this:
God, you are all-mysterious. And yet, you are made known to us in all that we are, and all that lies around us. We breathe you in, we touch you in the hand of a loved one, and we witness your work in the beauty of creation.
In times of uncertainty, protect us from cynicism, and from mistrust of our neighbor. Guard our spirits from the darkness of corruption and ill-used power. Give us the courage to seek what is right, and just, and good for humankind; then draw us back to the center of holiness that you breathed into us at birth. Push us more deeply into the mysteries of love and living. Open our eyes to the joy of unknowing, and the life-giving practice of just being in your presence.
Gift us with those qualities that we so desire to see in our leaders: integrity and grace, wisdom and mercy, compassion and vision. Let our work to live into those gifts dispel our anxiety about the darker unknowns of the world around us. Guide us in the daily journey of knowing what you have asked us to know, and trusting what you have asked us to hold as mystery. Set our feet on holy ground so that, in all things, we are assured of your presence. Let our certainty in you hold us above the uncertainty of the world–and guide us, with that same certainty, to better serve and shape our lived reality. Meet us in that space between what we know and what we believe might be, and renew our spirits for another day of living, loving, and dwelling in you.