Mystery

Mystery suggests more than it says. When something is mysterious, we do not entirely understand it. Once you can fully explain a mystery it no longer remains one. Louis A. Markos believes that we need poetry to understand mystery, especially the mystery of God in Christ come as one of us: "Poetry, with its desire to incarnate transcendent truths in material images while maintaining (via metaphors, symbols, allusions, etc.) a vital sense of play and interchange between the two, comes much closer than science, logic, or systematic theology to capturing the mystery inherent in the Incarnation" (66). To dwell in a state of mystery is to recognize that some matters are beyond us, to understand that there are things that defy our careful systems. I Corinthians 13:12 reminds us, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." This paradoxical sense of things is also a great strength. Mystery enlarges our understanding yet is never quite capable of being restated. Mystery is open-ended, revelatory, and renewable. It can be communed with because it discloses itself and has deep resources that can be drawn on. And mystery humbles us, even as it also ennobles us. It is both present and absent, ever expanding yet always subtracting. Les Murray says, "What attracts us to art and poetry is probably, first of all, the signals it send out that here the secret world is present; to put that another way, we are drawn by the bloom of dream life that the work bears" ("Embodiment and Incarnation" 64). To account for the mystery would be to explain it away, to master it. Mystery asks us to humble ourselves, to dwell in uncertainty, to be nourished by what we can’t entirely name. Murray in his short poem "Dreambabwe" balances both a sense of bodily truth, of particular essence, in an animal with a sense of something mysterious and beyond us. I quote the complete poem:

Streaming, a hippo surfaces
like the head of someone
lifting, with still-enchanted eyes,
from a lake of stanzas.

"At bottom," says Murray, " we cannot build a satisfying vision of life upon agnostic or atheist foundations, because we can’t get our dreams to believe in them" ("Embodiment and Incarnation" 56). There is something sacred about the life of one of God’s creations. It possesses the inscape that Hopkins talked about. Poetry is one of the ways human beings grasp that essential mystery about creation, ourselves, and God. (Of course, poetry can lie as well as other human speech.)

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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding