Most of us love a good mystery. PBS has issued “spoiler alerts” this week for their popular series Downtown Abbey. The younger generation has taken mystery a step further with fantasy worlds of trolls, wizards, dragons, and werewolves. But why do we find it difficult to accept a mystery in real life? St. Augustine famously said “You have made us for yourself [O Lord] and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The main reason our hearts are restless today is that we deny the mysteries inherent within God’s creation. In the scientific world, the unknown drives investigation and separates academic disciplines. Scientists work hard on them, trying to distill every aspect of our universe into one equation, whether it be a grand unification with string theory or a big bang in the cosmos. Research laboratories rarely report what they can’t explain. The only way to calm our hearts is to acknowledge God as creator and, most importantly, the inherent mysteries that often are taken for granted. As St. Paul said: “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God (1 Corinthians 3:18-19).”
The mysteries in nature are just as real as what we can see and touch, even though we don’t understand them. Instead of mountains and other wonders, processes outside man’s understanding are often at the heart of scientific mysteries. Such unknown processes include Easter Island, the Great Pyramids, the Shroud of Turin, and Noah’s Ark. Many years of investigating these momentous wonders have shown us that it’s not possible to separate body from soul – spectacle from majesty. As Pope Pius XII stated: “O wondrous vision, which makes us contemplate the human race in the unity of its origin in God…in the unity of its nature, composed equally in all men of a material body and a spiritual soul; in the unity of its immediate end and its mission in the world; in the unity of its dwelling, the earth, whose benefits all men, by right of nature, may use to sustain and develop life; in the unity of its supernatural end: God himself, to whom all ought to tend; in the unity of the means for attaining this end;…in the unity of the redemption wrought by Christ for all.” (Source)
In his quest for understanding, modern man though has separated material bodies from spiritual souls, performance from score, creativity from canvas, sexuality from reproduction. He has reduced himself to a skeleton of numbers without attached supernatural wonders. Today we have an ever changing digital lexicon, reflecting an inability to separate the significant from the insignificant, and are spinning in a meaningless vortex of words and numbers. Words are being taken out of the English language faster than they are created. To put new words and ideas into perspective, I close my eyes and imagine I’m living in the days of Noah. Then I ask myself if the new bit of information has eternal value or contributes to my knowledge of the natural world. Most of the time the answer is “no.” I’m sure early man would have understood computing from a cloud while watching over his domain. CCC #27 reminds us: “God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God–”the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”–with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.” Our vision is limited when peering into the vastness of creation. Even David pondered how the same God who made the moon and stars could be mindful of man. We must always be able to let go of analysis and ponder what we don’t know.
Another process that will remain a mystery is human sexuality. Compatibility, chemistry, visual connections, spiritual connections, intellectual connections, reproduction, and life itself are endearing mysteries that are part of God’s creation. I believe physical attraction and everything that leads up to marriage and the birth of a child are also part of creation. By looking at the recent population statistics, I’d say we’ve been very successful. Romance was alive yesterday and is still alive today. Only the methodology has changed. For instance, telephones, automobiles, computers, etc. were not available a thousand years ago, however, young men were able to connect with the young ladies without the use of 21st century technology. Both men, however, had reason.
Man is unique because he has dominion over all animals and does have the capacity to reason, something which cannot be measured in a laboratory or made visible through binary logic. We live in a time where not only reason is lost, but God’s creation is denied as well as the very nature of man. Benedict XVI addressed the issue on Dec 21, 2012 during his Christmas greetings:
“The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.”
It is ironic that man today can place so much value on his environment, spend vast sums of money protecting national parks and endangered species, continually test the quality of his water, and spend millions of dollars researching global warming — but at the same time deny and endanger the very nature of male and female. Denying the divine mysteries of human attraction and reproduction has played a pivotal role in this disconnect between man and nature. If we accepted these mysteries, the natural attraction between male and female would be protected just as much as the tropical rain forests. And the complementary nature of man to woman would crystallize into concrete reality.
Accepting these mysteries is paramount in accepting the absolute and unchanging nature of God and moving from the abyss of accepted scientific knowledge to the heights of wisdom and understanding. The Bible even tells us “unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).” A child is able to marvel at an acorn he holds in his hand. He is able to accept without question the possibility of it becoming an oak tree. Mystery is not an opaque obstruction to understanding. Rather, it allows us the wisdom to put into perspective those things we cannot understand.
I created the attached digital art piece “Origins” for this post.
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