JULIAN MEETING 5th March 2018
When you look at yourself and the world about you with an objective and dispassionate eye as you can, do you see both as phenomena to be understood, analysed and classified in a logical scientific way; or do you view what you see with a sense of awe? Do you have a sense of mystery? For me, it is the fact that I exist, that there is anything at all. It is the givenness that astonishes: the fact that the mountains, the larch tree, the gentian, the jay, exist, and that someone called me is here to observe them. It is what philosophers call ‘existential wonder’, and there is nowhere else to begin. The world is and it might not have been. It is: I am. That is the first wonder: what do we make of it?
No generalisation can be pressed too hard, but it does seem as if there is a thick sheet of glass placed, not between people of different creeds and cultures, but between those who have a sense of mystery and those for whom wonder is a luxury they can do without. We can see each other through the glass, but we can’t hear each other for we’re talking a different language, those with the capacity to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and to acknowledge the mystery, and those who don’t and won’t.
Mystery is a word with a past. In ancient Greece the mysteries were initiation ceremonies through which the initiates or mystics gained a secret knowledge of divine things which they were forbidden to speak about. Later, not long before the birth of Christ, the word assumed a different meaning. It meant a particular way of approaching reality through the use of our intuitive, as well as our intellectual, faculties: the belief that much of philosophy, art, poetry, and music are inspired by a sense of something that lies beyond and unseen, something over and above the world as we perceive it with our five senses, though interwoven with it; if you like the beyond in our midst.
A mystery in the religious sense is not some truth that can be fully understood once the wit and cunning of our brains have fathomed it out. It is implicit in life itself, and above all in the mystery that is me. Let me name just some mysteries: timeless, daily human mysteries we can’t escape. The mystery that you are uniquely you. Your name is a convenience but it does not even begin to define the mysterious being you are. Your body will utterly change as you age yet you will retain your own unique chemical mix, your own irreplaceable self, recognisably you until the day you die. Then there is the mystery of your birth, a miracle which is mind-blowing. There is the relationship between two persons whereby the mystery of love does not diminish either one but rather enhances the bond of mutual support and friendship. There are also those moments of human crisis that are in some way linked to our freedom: sickness, pain, accident, death, which leave us asking ‘why?’ – and learning to expect no very satisfying answer. And there is the mystery of evil and how, by what is called redemption, its poison may be countered and even good brought out of it.
When I try to analyse who or what I am, I am conscious of experiencing two worlds: a visible material world outside me which I make mine by using my eyes and ears and hands and brain; and an invisible inner world which is utterly different and which consists of my thoughts and feelings. The question is: how are they connected and which one is the real world? At this point I have to speak of ‘matter’ and ‘spirit’, even though each is mysterious; and to affirm that there is indeed in me a strong need to explore, to reach out to what is beyond me, to explore the world before my eyes and the world only accessible to the inner eye. I am challenged by the transcendent mystery beyond me, and I can only make sense of what I feel about myself and how my outer and inner world relate if for this mystery I use the word ‘God’. I am a kind of double person. I am conscious of my self in terms of my ego, that ego which is so demanding, so clamorous, that it can deceive me into thinking that it is all that I am. But this is not so, for there is another self, an inner, eternal self, my spirit, that spark of divinity which links me to the Divine Ground; and it is the purpose of my life to discover and identify myself with this true self in order to achieve integrity in my life.
Next Meeting in April 2018 at 7.30pm in the Rectory. Brian Fletcher