On April 21, I was ordained as a transitional deacon. After six years of seminary, I like to tell myself that I’ve got it all figured out and that I can answer pretty much any question that comes my way. Diaconate ordination was no exception. I’ve always been confident in my vocation, and able to articulate with the best of them why I’m pursuing ordination to the diaconate and priesthood.
About a month after I was ordained, many of my classmates from other dioceses started getting ordained and I was fortunate to be able to witness many of my brothers become deacons and priests. I’m not much of a crier by any means, but, as I sat in these cathedrals of far-away places, watching the men with whom I’ve walked for so many years get ordained, I found myself doing just that. Not hard-core sobs or a total breakdown, but those warm, beautiful tears that fill the bottom of your eyes when the heart must speak but no words can do justice to its groanings. I was coming face to face in those moments with so many things: the great joy of friendship, certainly, and gratitude for the work that God has done in the lives of these men and, of course, for the work he’s done in me. The major cause of my tears and headlong tumble into the cozy valley of melancholy was simply being face to face with the public and physical unfolding of the mystery of God.
It’s precisely in these moments that I realize that, despite all the letters that’ll someday appear after my name, I really don’t understand anything.
The world disdains anything mysterious. With the ironic exception of matters related to the human heart, the world demands transparency, clarity, action, results, solutions. Mystery is unwelcome because by its very definition it cannot provide any of those. We love Scooby Doo and CLUE because the mystery is always solved in the end but “solved” is precisely what a mystery can never be.
Problems are solved, and mysteries are exhausted. More precisely, mysterious things must be approached, investigated, examined as if they could be exhausted which of course they can never be. We shirk from the mysterious things in our lives, because we know they will only cause us to wonder more, to search more, and ultimately to learn more about ourselves and the deepest, inner workings of our own complex humanity. What we want is an answer, but what we crave is depth.
This past weekend I was at the priesthood ordination of one of my best friends. He had chosen as his unofficial motto for the weekend those classic words of C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia, “Further up, further in!” These words are spoken by Aslan as those who were victorious enter Narnia at last and exclaim, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
There are mysterious and beautiful things everywhere in the world. We must allow ourselves to be recalibrated by wonder, to allow ourselves to stay in the mystery. This recalibration sometimes makes things more confusing, perhaps, but the deeper you go the clearer things become. The more captivated we become by the people, events, and things all around us – captivated by them, not eager to “figure them out”. These things can literally take us captive, in a sense, and change us – the more we come to see the length and height and breadth and depth of God’s mysterious and personal work in us and for us. And then, captivated and committed to staying with the mystery, we respond in the only way a person can respond when overwhelmed by the undeserved goodness of another: gratitude.
This new seeing, this captivation and gratitude are only possible if we stay in the mystery. Look it square in the eyes, take it apart and put it back together, but don’t run from it. Someone once told me to ask for the grace to find a home in the mystery of God and to embrace it. In so doing, I can better understand and heed those wonderful words of Aslan, “Come further up, come further in!”
Like the people of Narnia, we’re on a journey toward a new and better world, and the glimpses we are afforded of that world come to us in the form of mystery and beauty. This is why they grab us, this is why the captivate us, and this is why staying with them instead of trying to figure them out literally pulls us further up out of ourselves and further into an encounter with all that is true and good and beautiful.