Nov 21 2018

December Journal – Taking It Home: Making Space for Mystery

Published by at 7:05 pm under Minister's Musings

Theme: What does it mean to be a people of MYSTERY?

Taking It Home: Making Space for Mystery

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones


On either side of our chancel in the sanctuary at First Unitarian, we have a beautiful set of six gold disks, which represent the six Sources of Unitarian Universalism. The first one—the one at the top on the left as you look at them—is blank, a smooth gold surface that some of us think of as a mirror and others, with a wink, as a pizza plate. Either way, it’s a good representation, especially if we think of the mirror as reflecting our own deepest selves or the pizza as one we can assemble, according to our own tastes and intuitions about what nourishes us, from a wide-open selection.

The official language for the first Source reads, “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” This is the source that we will explore throughout December, when the theme for worship, small groups, and religious education is “What does it mean to be a people of Mystery?”

Approaching this theme, I feel a dual longing: In the midst of so much uncertainty in our lives these days, I hunger for some reassuring certainty—some answers about how in the world we will address the many pressing problems we face. A little less mystery, please, about how all this will turn out; a little more direction and clarity about what we must do now for the good of the planet and of us all!

At the same time, I long for that sudden, often-unexpected experience of connection with those parts of life that remain, year after year, quietly, stunningly beautiful and transcendent. The carpet of fallen leaves that stop me in my tracks. The arrangement of moon and stars in the vast sky. The heartfelt conversation with my Lyft driver, shared on a cold night’s drive from the airport to my friend’s house in Brooklyn, about the deaths of our beloved parents. The dear familiarity of my friends’ faces, seen again after two years apart. The tingling tug of the interconnected web that keeps us flooded with compassion for people we don’t know but whose joys and sorrows touch us to the core of our broken-open hearts.

There are scientific or intellectual explanations for each of these experiences. Still, the very presence of them in my life sparks a sense of awe and wonder that feels mysterious.

Gradually I realize that my longing for answers and my hunger for mystery are not opposites but complements. I don’t have to stay stuck in an either/or way of thinking: either one way or the other, “all science or all supernatural” (the latter a word that doesn’t resonate with me). We can dwell in the both/and-ness of life. We can search for truths that guide us; we can choose and cherish that sense of mystery.

So in December, let’s pause at some point every day to make space for mystery in all its forms. Let us turn mindfully toward anything, large or small, that sparks wonder, awe, and deep appreciation. Let us notice what exactly grants us a “renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life”? Pause, notice, allow ourselves to feel the impact in our mind, heart, body, or spirit of these “direct experiences of transcending mystery and wonder.”

This spiritual practice makes space for hope in the midst of hard times, discouraging news, and crisis after crisis. So let us say a resounding “Yes!” to the invitation to make space in our hearts and lives for the mystery that sustains us.


With love for who we are and all we are becoming,


Rev. Nancy

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