What Does It Mean To Be A People of Mystery?
Unitarian Universalists love puzzles. We proudly announce that we are the religion that loves questions and questioning. Or to put it another way, we love figuring out life’s mysteries.
But what if mystery isn’t just something to figure out? What if it’s also something to be listened to? This is the lesser recognized call of our faith. Being a people of mystery isn’t just about engaging life as a marvelous puzzle. It’s also about allowing yourself to be spoken to by life’s wonder. One of the most elegant articulations of this comes from the poet Mary Oliver, a much-loved poet of Unitarian Universalists. In her poem, Wild Geese, she writes,
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Oliver’s call to listen for life’s announcements implies a letting go. Mystery is funny this way. You can’t make it speak. Indeed the more you pursue the answers to life’s mysteries; the more distant they become. If we want mystery to speak, it seems we have to be willing to be caught off guard. UU humanist minister and poet, David Breeden, captures this beautifully when he writes,
I dug and dug
Deeper into the earth
Looking for blue heaven
On piles of dust rising
And fell into the sky
Slipping, and then falling into the sky. Is there a better way to describe our dance with mystery? Isn’t this what all the great mystics have been trying to tell us from the start? That sitting at the heart of mystery is not the unknown, but unity. We fall into mystery and it falls into us. Its voice is one that whispers, “I am you and you are me.” Mystery doesn’t put up barriers; it dissolves them. Haven’t all of us faced the wonder and mystery of a sunset, the stars, a baby’s first cry or a lover’s wet kiss and thought to ourselves, “Who I am does not end at the barrier of my skin”?
So friends, this month, let’s let ourselves fall in and open up. So many opportunities to slip into the sky and let it slip into us. Let’s put down all the puzzling and the figuring out. Just long enough to notice that life isn’t simply trying to stump us. It’s also trying to connect with us.
Our Spiritual Exercises
Return to an Ordinary Moment of Deep Meaning
We’ve all experienced it: the mystery of an ordinary moment that suddenly unfolds and offers deep meaning. The everyday becomes luminous. This exercise invites you to remember some of those luminous moments and revisit the gift they gave. To do this, simply make some time to watch and meditate on the following video:
The Moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNVPalNZD_I
As you watch, think of moments you’ve experienced when life suddenly and mysteriously lit up and reminded you of the marvel and preciousness of being alive. And think about how that lit you up – move you from a feeling of “the same old, same old” to a feeling of dancing with the sacred. Go one from there to imagine images from your own life that you’d include if you were making your own video. Then keep watch during the following hours and days to see if this meditation changes the way you perceive or dance with your “ordinary” days.
Come to your group ready to share what the exercise opens up in you or the gift it gave.
Connect with Mystery on a Clear Night
Since the beginning of our existence, star-gazing has been a primary way we humans contemplate mystery. For scientist and mystic alike, it is a central way we sort out our mysterious place in the universe and the mystery of who we are. As we connect with the universe we connect more deeply with ourselves. This exercise invites you to lean into this connection between the stars above and deep meaning within.
To do this, make room on a clear night to listen to the following podcast while you gaze at the open sky:
Space – RadioLab: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/91520-space
The podcast tells the stories of numerous people’s efforts to connect with and make meaning of the mystery that lies beyond. As you listen, treat each story as an invitation to see something new in the vastness overhead. Simply allow this visual and auditory meditation to soak over you. When the podcast ends, continue to sit or lay in the quiet stillness and listen for the new story that your own voice starts to tell. Come to your group ready to share what this clear night clarified for you.
Here’s some additional inspiration:
- Stargazing In Yosemite National Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuhNNmzHP-c
- The Soul of the Night by Chet Raymo:
- A New View of the Moon: https://vimeo.com/259818647
Tell Your Mystical Tale
We UUs have had a mixed relationship to our mystical side. Sadly, we’ve tended to distance, deny or ignore it. But it’s there. From the Transcendentalists to our love of earth-centered spirituality, from our first UU Source to those of us who describe themselves as “freethinking mystics with hands,” stories of UU mysticism are woven fine throughout our history. This exercise invites you to add your own mystical experience to that narrative.
Throughout the month of December on our Soul Matters Facebook page, we will invite Soul Matters participants to share short versions of their mystical experiences on the Facebook page and in our Soul Matters google folder. It’s an effort to collect, affirm and articulate the first of our UU Sources: “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.”
All you have to do is make some time this month to reflect on and condense your mystical experience into a paragraph or two. Or if you have the heart of a poet, maybe even into 8 or 12 lines. When you are done, copy and paste it into our UU Mystics document (or post it on Facebook when we solicit stories).
To help you on your way, visit our UU Mystics document where some stories of UU mystics already are.
As you write your story, think about the phrasing of our first UU Source and ask yourself how your story continues to “move you to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.”
Find Mystery in Our Recommended Resources
Our recommended resources are full of wisdom about what it means to be a people of and a person of mystery. Engaging these resources and finding the one that especially speaks to you is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
So, if none of the above exercises call to you, engage the recommended resources section of this packet as your spiritual exercise for the month.
Set aside some regular time throughout a week to go through them and meditate on them until you find the one that most expands, articulates or deepens your understanding of mystery. After you’ve found it, consider printing it out and carrying it with you or pinning it up so you can continue to reflect on it throughout the weeks leading up to your group meeting. Come to your group ready to share where the journey led you.
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or a list to covering its entirety. Instead, simply pick the one question that speaks to you most and let it lead you where you need to go. They are here to help you figure out what being a person of mystery means for you and your daily living. So, which question is calling to you? Which one contains “your work”? Where is it trying to lead you?
- What’s the most unprovable thing you place your faith in?
- What mysterious experience still nags at your disbelief?
- Has mysterious “meaningful coincidence” (synchronicity) ever pointed you in the direction you needed to go, right when you were not sure of your way?
- In your experience, has love been a mystery or a choice? Has it been an accomplishment you created and choose or a mysterious “other presence” that choose and created you?
- Do you spend more time treating life like a problem to be solved, a game to be won, a struggle to be survived or a mystery to be lived?
- It’s said that we will never experience the fullness of our being until we get in touch with the mysterious “divine that dwells within us.” Has this been true for you? Maybe more importantly, what if it’s true?
- It’s said that we stop struggling to feel at peace once we experience the mysterious and transcendent “love that will not let us go.” Has this been true for you? Maybe more importantly, what if it’s true?