As we embark on a new year, it is good to take a few minutes to reflect on the essential mystery of life. We begin our reflection with this classic definition of religion: mysterium tremendum et fascinans, a mystery both disturbing and fascinating. Could we not say that life itself is a mystery both disturbing and fascinating?
When we see the smiling face of a small child, we are fascinated. When we experience a chance encounter that evolves into a life-long relationship, we are fascinated. When God feels very close to us, we are fascinated.
But when things don’t go as planned, we are disturbed. When we see a loved one in pain, we are disturbed. When God seems distant or absent, we are disturbed. Uncertainty can be so difficult for us, we sometimes take refuge in the familiar and the known. One family therapist put it this way: “Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”
In her beautiful book, When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd says that a certain amount of insecurity or disturbance is not only inevitable in life, it is good for us. She writes: “Creativity flourishes not in certainty, but in questions. Growth germinates not in tent dwelling, but in upheaval. Yet the seduction is always security rather than venturing out.”
Kidd goes on to say that total security, however, eliminates risk. “And where there’s no risk, there is no becoming; and where there’s no becoming, there’s no real life. The real spiritual sojourners–the ones who touch the edges of life as well as the center–are people who risk, who let go.”
One of the clearest examples of a real spiritual sojourner was Mary at the Annunciation. She says to the angel, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Talk about risk! In saying those words, Mary let go of her old life and embraced a daring (and scarey!) new life. She utterly abandoned herself to the mystery of God’s designs.
As we bid farewell to 2019 and begin a new year, we do not know what lies ahead for us. This can be both fascinating and disturbing. We may be disturbed when we realize how little control we have over anything–our health, work, finances, loved ones, and current world situations. Such a realization can instill terror in our hearts and tempt us to retreat into a cave of our own making.
Father Ronald Rolheiser, many years ago, made a retreat under the direction of an elderly sister. He admits he tended to make cosmic tragedies out of ordinary setbacks. Sensing this, the sister gave him this little proverb: “Fear not, you are inadequate!” Rolheiser said, “It is healthy, humbling, and uplifting to accept the fact that we are not God and that we are not asked to be.” (On more than one occasion, I have had to remind myself: “There is only one messiah. And the messiah’s name is not Melannie!”)
Let us face the New Year, then, not with fear and trembling, but with hope and joyful fascination, trusting in our loving God who is the God of the past, the present, and the future.
I wish a very blessed and happy New Year for you and your loved ones!
How comfortable are you with uncertainty, ambiguity, and mystery in your life?
To what extent do you agree or disagree with the words of Sue Monk Kidd?
What are some of the risks you have taken in life? Did any of these risks result in greater growth and life for you?
PS: I will be making my annual retreat Jan. 4-12, and I ask for your prayers. During this week, I promise to hold all of you in my special prayer. I worked ahead so you’ll receive my blog as usual on Jan. 6. Thank you and God bless you!
The song for today is an “oldie but goody.” It is “The Love of God Will Rise Before the Sun” by the Dameans. The refrain is one I sing often–especially if I am worried about something in the future. The words are:
I know nothing of tomorrow except the love of God will rise before the sun (2x).
Nations shake and earth may quake and storm clouds tend to gather, troubles seem as dark as night. Shades of gloom and threats of doom I see; but I would rather watch the darkness fade in morning’s light. (refrain)
Come along and sing a song and fill the world with laughter. Trust in Him who’s worth the trust and then, with heads held high against the sky, we’ll take what comes and after smile to feel the warmth of love again. (refrain)
If you care to respond to anything in this reflection or share some of your thoughts on the new year, please do so below.