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COMPASS ROSE: THE UU SAN MATEO BLOG

The Gift of MYSTERY

Updated: Nov 30, 2023



When faced with a mystery, I immediately go into sleuth mode. Just give me an hour or two to Google it, and I’ll come up with the answer!


That was my initial thinking when I started to explore The Gift of MYSTERY, this month’s congregational theme. But Soul Matters suggests a far more spiritual path. “…[W]hat if mystery isn’t just something to solve? …[T]he more you pursue the meaning of life’s mysteries, the more distant it becomes.”


So if we’re not actively pursuing answers to life’s unfathomable mysteries, what is the alternative? Soul Matters suggests a more spiritual path would be to just slow down and listen. “Let us allow ourselves to fall in and be opened up,” they suggest in the Overview for this month’s theme. “Let’s set the sleuthing down, for just a moment, and simply listen.”


There are various paths we humans take to help us to slow down and listen. Many find meditation to be a very useful path. In my former meditation practice, I used deep breathing to relax my hyperactive mind. Once I reached a certain state of relaxation, my breathing slowed noticeably and my mind went from “broadcast” mode – its normal state – to “receive” mode. At that stage, I often received unbidden messages, answers to questions I had been trying to solve. It was as if the universe itself – some call it God, or Love – was speaking directly to me. Although I did not always like the answers I received, I inevitably found them to be true. (As I write these words, it occurs to me that returning to that meditation practice would be useful!)


Getting away from noisy civilization can also help us listen. A solo hike in the forest or a walk on the beach can create a state of mind that is far apart from the din of daily life, whereupon we are visited -- quite mysteriously -- by alternative perspectives. “Enlightenment” is far more accessible to me when I surrender my mind to the miracles of the natural world, and just listen.


Others seek outside influences to assist in their search for answers. Someone skilled in the psychological sciences can serve as a guide to help us find that inner voice, still and small, ready to guide us along life’s mysterious paths. Psychedelic substances have been employed for centuries in many world cultures to reveal that inner voice. In my younger years, one psychedelic seemed to me to be a particularly helpful spiritual guide; I recall a radiant "trip" during which I proclaimed to my guide, loudly and with great clarity: “The answer to any question is ‘LOVE.’” (Alas, drug-induced realizations never seem to last!)


Ultimately, trying to find answers is simply another kind of “sleuthing.” The mystery that is life is ultimately about BEING, not DOING. Philosopher Alan Watts said: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but an experience to be had.” In all my searching and questioning to unravel life’s mysteries, I have reached one simple conclusion: there is far more that we don’t know than we do know. “Let this be the ground of my faith,” writes philosopher Chet Raymo. “All that we know, now and forever, all scientific knowledge that we have of this world, or will ever have, is as an island in the sea. Still the mystery surrounds us.”


I have finally concluded that I simply don’t know, and I can’t find out by trying to find out. That’s just fine with me! Bring on life’s experiences, and I’ll see what those experiences have to offer. (I have noticed, for example, that “meaningful coincidences” can be particularly useful...but only when I pay attention to them.) I don’t have the answers to life’s mysteries – wouldn’t that be boring? – and I don’t think anyone else has the answers either. “Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers,” wrote poet Mary Oliver. “Let me keep company always with those who say ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.”


Not having the answers is what attracted me to Unitarian Universalism. After sampling many other religious denominations that profess to know The Truth, I found it refreshing to find one that instead encourages me to doubt -- to explore, to question, to experience, to learn, to grow, to find my own path. I am reminded of an anthem called “Cherish Your Doubt,” written by Elizabeth Alexander and sung by the UUSM Choir at the 2008 Music Festival (video link here). “With a faith both tempered and strong,” wrote Elizabeth Alexander, “Questioning only helps it along.” (Full lyrics here.)


So this month, let’s explore The Gift of MYSTERY by helping each other “fall in and be opened up,” listening to the silence that surrounds us. Together, we shall keep company with that still, small voice, both within and without, that lets us sense the Oneness of Everything.


“Silence opens up the finite world to the infinite.”

– Ladislaus Boros



Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of MYSTERY?

Check out this month’s Soul Matters Overview, and the complete Gift of Mystery packet.


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