Faces on Faith: Bringing the mystery down to Earth
May 16, 2018


The psalms have always been one of my favorite places to go in Holy Scripture. There seems to be a place for every lament, every thanksgiving, every tear, and every cry for help. The metaphors and images in the psalms also feed my heart and soul with the knowledge of the creative power of the God who surrounds us in holy mystery, and who is beyond my human comprehension.

An image in Psalm 139 captures that sacred mystery with the verse: "How deep I find your thoughts, O God, how great is the sum of them. If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand." That image of the trillions of particles of sand lying on any of our beaches has always been my image of the universe as well. Trillions of stars and planets and other cosmic bodies - as impossible to conceive of, or to count as the sand - and as mesmerizing a sum as the thoughts of God. How in awe I continue to be of all creation.

In awe and reverence again, I stood outside last week as the full moon lit up our little lake and backyard. As many times as the full moon appears, it persists in being such an incredible sight to experience. That exquisite reflected light from the hidden sun permeating the landscape in the stillness of night on the island. In awe of my Creator I felt a slight catch in my throat trying to comprehend the beauty and immensity of the moon and spangle of stars overhead. It's actually been since childhood that I've had this persistent thirst to comprehend it all and the essence of God within and around it all. I was reminded of Karl Rahner's description of God: "That incomprehensible Mystery" - so like the unfathomable mystery of the universe.

And how humanity has longed to unlock the mysteries of the universe! From Aristotle's cosmology that heaven and earth were two separate domains, to Ptolemy's complex system of small and large concentric circles, to Copernicus' major discovery that not only did the Earth rotate on its own axis, but was circling the sun as well! Shocking to us these days, Copernicus' theories were actually placed on a "blacklist" of forbidden books because Christian thought at that time had Earth and its humans as the center of the universe. How enlightened he was to attempt to dispel those insular beliefs and prove that we were simply one small part of God's great design of creation. We could go on and on with the human hunger to comprehend the universe - through Galileo and Newton, on to the Hubble Telescope, or the latest Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer! Ahh humanity's attempts to comprehend that which is so incomprehensible - in the physical universe and in the spiritual realms as well.

As the full moon continued to envelope my yard in light, I also reflected on the thoughts of some of the great mystics who wrote that our lives were "rooted in mystery." They believed that the deepest level a human could attain would be when they stopped trying to understand the mystery of God in human terms and focused on trying to be in the presence of a living God here among us - a Kingdom of God on earth - not just in the heavens. Sage advice for me to seek less the understanding of the mystery, and to seek more how God's mysterious and powerful Spirit works in us through the sacredness that resides in each one of us - part of the sacred essence of Creation. And most importantly, the mystery that is truly discovered through our sacred care, compassion, and love for one another.

The Rev. Dr. Ellen M. Sloan is the rector at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.


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