The place of mystery in our lives and spiritual practice

We live in a time transformed by digital technology. And the foundation of this technology is a simple bit of information, a tiny switch which is either turned on or turned off. That is the basic building block of all of this digital wizardry. This basic principle of coding and technology – this fundamental way of seeing things as one way or the other but not in-between – has crept into our public life as well. More and more Americans seem to see things in black and white terms. The room for things which are not black and white – or on or off – seems to be shrinking. And that is a problem because most of us live in the grey areas, stuck between being all this or all that. Truth is, few of us are all one way or another – we’re not all bad or all good; not all right or all wrong; not all just or all unjust.

We all know our lives cannot be made full if we try to code our existence into all on or off, pseudo-digital decisions. Technology can approximate real life but we can’t really live by a binary code of conduct. Love, whether spiritual or with our partner or children or family or friends, calls us to transcend all or nothing thinking and walk in the great grey gulf which runs between these two extremes.

What missing from a binary approach to life is the middle ground, territory that becomes accessible through our ability to appreciate mystery. Falling in love with the person you will share your life with is wrapped in mystery. The love parents feel for their children is – and at times we feel this very clearly – a mystery. How we become friends with people, how we relate to people – these all fall within the realm of mystery.

So does our spiritual path. Too much of the world outside this community has been robbed of mystery. But here at Cyprian’s, we find spiritual practices that restore our sense of mystery, practices that help us renew our spirits for another week in our digital life.

Part of what we do here is offer ways for people to experience awe.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explained: “Awe enables us to see in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple, to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” Awe owns us to mystery. And to a spiritual life.  Or: “in a world where everyone is overexposed,” an internet saying goes, “the coolest thing you can do is maintain your mystery.” What goes on here on Sundays is chock full of mystery.

Sometimes here on a Sunday, someone will experience a sense of awe and mystery while singing a favorite hymn – or perhaps one that is new but still moves their spirits.

Sometimes here on a Sunday, someone will experience a sense of awe and mystery from our communal celebration of the Eucharist.

Sometimes here on a Sunday, someone will experience a sense of awe and mystery from the words we share in prayers and scripture and perhaps even the sermon.

Today’s scripture points to the Trinity, which is perhaps the greatest mystery in Church theology. There’s no logical way to understand the Trinity. A common description of the Trinity shows:


There’s no way to understand this. It has to be a mystery! Because we are not supposed to understand. We are supposed to accept awe and mystery as part of the package of being a Christian. Living a Christian life involves becoming progressively more aware of mystery, progressively more accepting of living in the grey areas between absolutes on one side or the other; progressively more comfortable in the liminal space where God can move us to do what God needs to be done.

“The advantage of believing in the reality of the Trinity is not that we get an A from God for giving “the right answer.” Remember, to believe something is to act as if it is so. To believe that two plus two equals four is to behave accordingly when trying to find out how many dollars or apples are in the house. The advantage of believing it is not that we can pass tests in arithmetic; it is that we can deal much more successfully with reality. Just try dealing with it as if two plus two equaled six,” writes Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy.

“Hence, the advantage of believing in the Trinity is that we then live as if the Trinity is real: as if the cosmos environing us actually is, beyond all else, a self-sufficing community of unspeakable, magnificent, personal beings of boundless love, knowledge, and power. And, thus believing, our lives naturally integrate themselves, through our actions, into the reality of such a universe, just as with two plus two equals four. In faith we rest ourselves upon the reality of the Trinity in action—and it graciously meets us. For it is there. And our lives are then enmeshed in the true world of God,” he adds.

We are called to believe in the Trinity – and live in the liminal land of mystery – so we may become “enmeshed in the true world of God” and live within the boundless love offered by God.

Perhaps the Trinity is our model of a perfect community, one we seek in our lives and in this church. If so, today’s lesson from John (3:1-17) suggests personal transformation is a necessary step toward embodying God’s peace, love and justice as God’s responsible agents. This is one meaning of the story of Nicodemus, the one who would only meet with Jesus at night, so his peers would not know.

In our second lesson. (Romans 8:12-17) St. Paul invites us to use the relationship between the three parts of the Trinity as a model for our behavior in community. For Paul sees our new life in Christ as being embedded in – as rooted and growing up from – our life in community.

Our lesson from Jewish scripture (Isaiah 6:1-8) walks us through a mysterious encounter with the triune God. Standing before God, Isaiah is overcome with awe, and then overswept with a sense of shame and inadequacy.

He is moved to spiritual transformation through repentance and restoration. “You guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out,” a Seraph responds. His personal transformation moves Isaiah to become a prophet calling for social transformation. When God calls out “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah answers “Here I am; send me!”

The mystery of the Trinity invites us to live in the mystery of God’s unbounded love for us. It empowers us to join in the life of this community and to transform it into one enacting the love, peace, and justice of the realm of God here at the corner of Turk and Lyon.

Let us pray:

God of delight,

your Wisdom sings your Word

at the crossroads where humanity and divinity meet.

Invite us into your joyful being

where you know and are known

in each beginning,

in all sustenance,

in every redemption,

that we may manifest your unity

in the diverse ministries you entrust to us,

truly reflecting your triune majesty

in the faith that acts,

in the hope that does not disappoint,

and in the love that endures.

Let the church say: Amen.


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