“Leave some room for dessert,” my Mom said at almost every evening meal. This was never a problem. I always had room for dessert. “Leave some room for cream, please,” is what I always say at Starbucks or Dunkin Donut. This is consistently a problem. The coffee coming filled to the brim, and trying to add cream succeeding only in scalding my hand.
I recently had a similar problem with my Christian Education Team. They presented me with a curriculum for Confirmation, which I surprisingly refused to teach – even I was shocked by my decision. It was 36 sessions on the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the 10 Commandments; the same “stuff” of my own catechetical training. Why did I say no? If it was good enough for me... Well, because it wasn’t good enough for me, in fact I found it boring as hell then, and still do now.
I said no because the thought of teaching such a curriculum left me flat. There was no room for mystery. No room to explore, or maybe just find our souls. No room for inquiry or doubt or for the movement of the Spirit. This was pure indoctrination. I like to teach in an inspirational style. This curriculum believed it had all the right answers. I believed I had all the right questions – at least for the confirmation age.
Please do not get me wrong. Those who presented me with this curriculum were truly good people, and excellent parents. Committed and invested in Christ and the church. However, I also experienced them as deeply frightened of the world we live in. They want to keep their kids safe and secure. They want to arm their kids against the world. I would like to enable and empower their kids to cope creatively and effectively with the modern world.
Life is a mystery, everywhere, and all of the time. Look under a microscope. Look through a telescope. Look into someone’s eye, or into the human heart. Mystery swarms through our lives, like the Milky Way traveling about the universe. This mystery is such a big beautiful blessing. Don’t diminish it. Don’t pare it down to manageable size. Let it be free to dazzle and awe.
When I look at the curriculums designed for most Sunday Schools or Confirmation programs, with few exceptions, I am so disappointed. We present religion as a means of controlling our lives. By becoming a do-gooder we win points in the eyes of God. By reciting a religious formula, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior”, we get into Heaven. I beg to differ. This is where I see the Grand Canyon of difference between religion and spirituality.
Faith knows we're not in control of anything, least of all our lives, or Life itself. We are not in charge. The universe begs us daily to surrender to a Higher Power, and yes, I do believe that Higher Power is different for each and every one of us. Even if I call that Higher Power, Jesus Christ, my experience of Christ is unique to me. No doctrine or creed can capture it in words. The Word of God is the presence of God in my life. The Word, not human words, speaks to my soul, and expresses my deepest longings.
This is where religion can get dangerous for kids. When our fear encourages us to remove the mystery, or when we want our religion to make us smarter, better, holier than others. When we see our beliefs as weapons, or honestly believe that Heaven is just for a select crowd of folks, then we have transformed faith into a fight for superiority, or the means to join an exclusive club.
Let me give a blatant example, the debate on creation vs. evolution. What a waste of time and energy. What a hugely divisive issue for our kids. How tragic to teach highly intelligent and scientific youngsters, that the Bible’s version of Creation is literal, that evolution is a fraud, and the earth formed a mere thousands of years ago, not the millions upon millions science tells us.
I believe that God created the heavens and the earth. I believe there is a Creator. A force of love so wondrous, that Life mysteriously took shape and form. I also believe in evolution. I find evolution to be a vast fascinating realm of mystery. Why have we made this an either/or debate? This is a discussion which is both/and. Why do we need to remove the mystery of evolution, in order to feel secure in our faith in a Creator? Does evolution loosen our clutch on believing we know all the answers? Does evolution in any way diminish the creative power of God? Are we that appalled at being connected to apes?
Mystery makes us anxious. For many, it just gets on their nerves. They want answers. They want black and white answers. They want to put Life into tidy little boxes, and then mark each one for contents. They need to feel that they are not only in charge, but that they ultimately will decide everything from who is good and bad, to who will have eternal life. As they slog along in Life, having answers makes them think they know where they are going, and where they will eventually wind up. Answers have no such certainty to offer.
Mystery does not work that way. Mystery is all grey. Mystery is eternally expanding, reminding us that we are not God, inspiring both our brilliance and humility. Making us come alive with wonder, and mandating that we daily consider the miniscule importance of our lives. Mystery is paradox. Mystery is what Christ taught in parables. Mystery is the sweet center of Buddhism, and the catalyst for the Jewish quest to locate the Messiah.
Mystery = I just don’t know. I have a hunch. I have a few clues. I am trying to find the trail. I am on a quest. My soul is seeking. But spiritually speaking, there is an acceptance that we will never know it all. We will never fully arrive. We will never figure Life out, because it isn’t a riddle to be solved. We will always be becoming, on the way, slogging forward, moving toward.
The end, I am afraid, is the end. We will know not one thing about it until we come to it – THE END. Until then, and possibly for eternity, it will remain a mystery, until we mysteriously melt into God. I have no idea. I do love speculating. I never offer my speculations as a solution. I just wonder about the beyond and the before.
Our lives can get so damn monotonous. So can religion. The looks on the faces of teenagers gathered for confirmation, often tells the story of watching paint dry. We must leave room for some mystery. Keep on wondering and pondering, and even pretending. Keep on seeking and searching. Enjoy the good company of those who are on a quest, but be very wary of those who think they have found it. If Heaven is indeed with those who have all the answers, it sounds like one big yawn to me.
When we open our lives to the presence of mystery, then our slogging becomes sacred seeking, and this my friends is when we can catch a good glimpse of Grace. Grace may even give us a wink. God is flirting with us all of the time. It is a mystery--we really aren’t all that attractive.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.