A friend of mine, who happens to be an atheist, made an interesting comment: While discussing mystery, he said, “Mysteries don't get embraced they get figured out or not!” He was pretty adamant about this; there was an exclamation point on the sentence. In his world, you either knew things, you figured out things, or you just left them alone. In his world, there was no place for things to just be. He was making the mistake that I think many people make. He was making the mistake of identifying “mystery” with “puzzle.”
I think, quite often, we all do that. We have come to associate the word “mystery” with the word “puzzle.” We watch Jessica Fletcher solve a “mystery” in just under one hour. We read “mystery novels” and know whodunit in around 500 pages. We have these things that we call “mysteries” and so when we hear the word “mystery,” this is what we expect: We expect that if we find all the clues, we can come up with an explanation. But we are wrong. What Jessica Fletcher and most of the other things we call “mysteries” have in common is that they are not “mysteries” at all, they are puzzles.
A puzzle is something that we figure out. Puzzles have an answer. Generally, a puzzle has only one answer and it is our task to figure out what we need to do so we can reach that one answer. What we generally refer to mysteries are really puzzles; if we can just put the clues together in the proper way, we can figure out who the killer is. If we can just figure out where to jump in the video game, we can rescue the princess. If we can just find the Hicks Boson, then we can discover where the entire universe came from. We may refer to these things as “mysteries” but, in fact, they are puzzles.
Mysteries are a whole different animal. Mysteries are something that we will never figure out; there will never be one answer to a mystery. Where a puzzle limits one’s creativity, a mystery calls us deeper and deeper into creativity. On its simplest level, in a puzzle, we have to put all the pieces together in THE correct manner to see the picture. Video games may take us another step away, we may have to think of punching the wall to find the secret door; but the puzzle of a video game still does not instill creativity. I may wish to build a ladder to get over the wall instead of punching a hole through it, but if the game is not set up for that, I cannot do it. Complex puzzles may look like mysteries, there may seem to be an endless amount of possibilities. But as long as we have to punch the wall instead of building a ladder, or vise-versa, we are still dealing with a puzzle.
Quite often I think we are like my atheist friend; we want to flatten all things in the world into puzzles. We want to figure out the words to put into the grid, the wall to punch, the prayers to say, or the specific things to do so we can “figure out life.” We look at the world around us as one big puzzle to be figured out instead of thinking of life as a big mystery to be lived within and savored.
The problem with seeing life as a puzzle is that it creates a very flat existence; once the puzzle is completed, the game is over. How many of you have puzzle books sitting around the house with all the words found, and all the boxes filled in? What good is the puzzle after it is solved? We may burn the book for heat, but other than that, the book is not much good. No, once you have solved the puzzle, going back and trying to “re-solve” it contains as much enjoyment as watching ice melt. That is the downfall of puzzles, only one answer. That also becomes the downfall of seeing life as a puzzle; the search for the one answer becomes the focus of life. And in becoming so focused, we lose the view around us.
But as I said, life is NOT a puzzle, it is a mystery! Every discovery leads us to new questions and new challenges. Mysteries beg us to move deeper and deeper into our understanding. Mysteries challenge us to broaden our sense of understanding, to look around us and contemplate. Mysteries encourage us to build a ladder instead of punching the wall, or maybe even build a helicopter! Mysteries do not have just one answer, as I said before, mysteries do not have answers! To be part of a mystery is to be part of a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s world.
Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity. I really don’t know if mysteries of the church get much bigger than this. So often I get asked to “explain” the Trinity. But to try to explain it is to get caught up in thinking of the Trinity as a puzzle to be “figured out” and not to view it as a mystery to be contemplated with awe. “How can Jesus be God and be the Holy Spirit while being separate from each other?” I don’t know. And trying to figure it out and explain it is an invitation to crazy-making. The Trinity is a mystery we are asked to accept on faith. And in accepting this mystery, we are asked to search deeper and deeper into what it means to be human, what it means to be People of God, and what it means to be Christian.
Part of the definition of what it means to be God is that God is ineffable; we cannot figure out God. If we could understand God, then God would not be God. It is similar to saying if our brains were simple enough to be understood, we would be too simple to understand them. But we seem to shy away from true mysteries; we like to have things figured out. And since we cannot understand God, we try to come up with ways to try to explain God, we try to come up with ways to solve the puzzle. But because God is a mystery, our explanations can never fully engulf the totality of God. Our explanations satisfy some of our curiosity, but they still leave us searching for more.
So often we turn to the Bible looking for the solutions, but the Bible isn’t a puzzle book, even though so many want to make it into one. It isn’t even a “mystery,” as society understands it. The Bible is a truly GREAT mystery. It invites us in and invites us to plumb its depths. It asks us questions but is not satisfied with our answers. One of the things that I love about being a priest is that the answers I may have found in the scriptures three years ago, or six years ago, while still being relevant, now are inadequate as there are even deeper mysteries to explore. To go back to the video game, six years ago, punching the wall may have made sense, but now building the ladder makes sense too! And in six more years, who knows?
You have probably heard many attempts at explaining the Trinity. But trying to explain the Trinity as an apple, or a snowball, or as Love, or as whatever, may make us feel good for a while, but these explanations will always leave us wanting for more. They will always leave us feeling unsatisfied. That is the magic of mystery! One answer opens a whole new world of questions! What does it mean to have God as Father/Mother/Parent? What does it mean to have God as Jesus the Son? What does it mean to have God as Holy Spirit/Advocate/Enlightener? And what does it mean that these can all exist simultaneously? We will never know! But we are asked to contemplate these possibilities and to open our faith to what might yet lie beyond.
How we view the world greatly effects how we approach our faith. When we see the whole world as a puzzle, what we end up doing is looking for the proper pieces, the proper actions, to make God love us or to make sure we get into heaven. When we see the world as a puzzle, we look for what will make God do what we want. When we see life as a puzzle, it is not the journey that is important so much as reaching the conclusion.
But when we open our lives to the enormity of mystery, we are continually amazed by the journey. We are drawn to seek new insights, new beauty, new life! We are sent out to be at work in the world. We are presented with new challenges. When we open ourselves to the enormity of mystery, we realize the depth of forgiveness we find in the person of Christ, and joy of knowing that this forgiveness frees us to be about working in the world. When we immerse ourselves in the mystery, we do not need to fear mistakes because we know that the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us if we should have a misstep. And in the wonder of mystery, what may appear to be a misstep may actually lead to a deeper understanding.
Puzzles and mysteries; what we use as our guide greatly effects our life. When we look to solve the puzzle of faith, we end up striving to build our own salvation. But if we open ourselves to mystery of God, we can become part of the wonder that is the Trinity. Mystery draws us in. The mystery of the Trinity, the mystery of the incarnations, the mystery of the Eucharist. These are often stumbling blocks for many people. But they can also be the call to enter into a deeper relationship with the ineffable.
As we begin the summer season, things can get pretty busy. But I ask you to let the mystery of the Holy Trinity be your invitation into mystery. I invite you to take time to contemplate the mysteries of the world, of our God and of each other.