Mystery

This week has been a bit tough. We've had some stressful situations to deal with in the family, which I often end up feeling as though I’m 'carrying'. And it was Charlie's birthday on Sunday (Charlie was stillborn on 13/11/1993). Some years, Charlie's birthday passes almost unnoticed; other years, something occurs which brings back the grief. Often, the years when it passes most smoothly are the years when I'm expecting it to be tough, and vice versa; this year, with life in general having become so good (thanks be to God), I expected to sail through it with barely a ripple. How wrong can one be? So, this week, I am, uncharacteristically for 2016, struggling a bit. But in one sense struggle is good - in that it provides a necessary contrast; a counterpoint which helps one appreciate the good all the more.

I have been neglecting this blog. Actually, that's not true... I have written lots of things for this blog; I just haven't published them. I've written them, and then found that though they helped clarify my own thinking, they weren't suitable for publication. Often that was because whatever I'd been thinking about was complicated, and I found it hard to write a coherent 'narrative' in a 'bloggable' number of words. Other times, what I'd been thinking about simply didn't seem like the sort of thing that would be enlightening or useful to others. And some of it was simply confusing... Reading it back through, even I'm not sure what I was trying to say - or why!

My sabbatical was really good, and a lot of the goodness has 'spilled over' into normal life on my return to 'normal life' - though 'normal life' itself is different, not least because I'm no longer churchwarden. I have become more 'contemplative' - happy to sit (or walk) and ponder 'life's mysteries'. And I am slowly learning that not all mysteries need to be solved; indeed, many are unsolvable (in this life, with this mind, at least). It's one of those odd things - as I mature as a Christian, and know more and more, the more I realise how little I actually know - and how mysterious the faith really is. Physics is rather like that too... When one is taking A Levels, and studying for one's first degree, one feels that one is learning everything, and that one will eventually be able to understand and explain everything. Further study shows one that, really, one knows next to nothing. My faith seems to feel like that.

Faith is not like an Agatha Christie ‘Whodunnit’ - there doesn’t have to be a ‘denouement’, with all the potential murderers gathered in a room while the clever detective explains the means, motive and opportunities, before accusing one (or more) of those gathered, of their guilt. Some mysteries remain mysteries - and they’re none the worse for that… In fact, I’d go so far as to say that some things need to be mysterious.

Even a fairly short time ago, feeling like that about my faith would have been worrying - somehow I felt as though I needed certitude. And 'me then', looking at someone like 'me now', would have been concerned that 'me now' was losing his faith. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth... My faith in God is stronger than ever. And, paradoxically, I am happier than before with the knowledge that I don't know. In fact now I think that the biggest thing I know is that I don't know. There are many things which, try as I might, I could not, cannot, understand - however hard I try. But God is God. And God is both loving and just, and that makes him worthy of my trust, so I am content to let those mysteries lie - or else to wander around within them, considering their possible implications.

Therefore I have no need to try to post those terribly complicated thoughts from the summer; they have helped me to clarify my thinking, and to reach a point of happily embracing 'not knowing'. Instead, I want to try to dwell on the simplicity of the faith. On which note - a return to a theme I've touched on before this year...

We have a tendency to project our way of loving onto God. Our love is determined by the supposed worthiness of the object of our love - "He's nice" or "She is beautiful", and then we deign to love the person because they're so attractive, or so agreeable. This feels like love. It is, perhaps, the beginning of something which could become love.

We struggle to imagine a love which isn't provoked by the worthiness of the object. And, consequently, we make ourselves as attractive as we can, in the hope of making ourselves worthy of love…

And we even try to do this in our relationship with God - or else we realise that we simply can’t 'live up to’ the sort of ideal we imagine God expects, and we give upaltogether any hope we might have had of building a relationship with God.

But God turns this whole thing totally, completely and utterly, upside down and inside out. As Richard Rohr says in 'The Divine Dance’:

"God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.I should just stop writing right here. There's nothing more to say, and it'll take the rest of your life to internalise this."

And that's probably a good point for me to stop for now too.

God bless you!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2016