April 16, 2023
The Mystery Goes On
Theologian and writer, Brian McLarens, commented a while back that, “We are just suckers if we let the reigning intellectual fashion decree that the resurrection is unbelievable. What is believable changes from generation to generation. In a universe that becomes more amazing with each new discovery, it is arrogant to declare the resurrection impossible. That is not my problem with it; my difficulty comes from the claim that the resurrection is an objective fact, like the division of cells or the Los Angeles earthquake. The resurrection appearances did not, after all, take place in the temple before thousands, but in the privacy of homes. They did not occur before the religious authorities, but only to the disciples hiding from those authorities. The resurrection was not a world-historic event that could have been filmed by “60 Minutes,” but a privileged revelation reserved for the few. I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God.” –Life in our modern age is still filled with mystery!
In a book called “The Clown in the Belfry” the late Frederick Buechner, another highly esteemed theologian and writer tells of an incident that startled, and to some extent, mystified him. It picks up that theme of mystery in life.
He writes: “A year or so ago, a friend of mine died… One morning in his 68th year he simply didn’t wake up. It was about as easy a way as he could possibly have done it, but it was not easy for the people he left behind because it gave us no chance to start getting used to the idea… or to say goodbye.
He died in March, and in May my wife and I were staying with his widow overnight when I had a short dream about him.
I dreamed he was standing there in the dark guest room where we were asleep, looking very much himself in the navy blue jersey sweater and white slacks he often wore. I told him how glad I was to see him again—He acknowledged that somehow. –Then I said, ‘Are you really there Dudley?’ –I meant was he really there in truth, or was I merely dreaming he was. His answer was that, Yes, he was really there.
‘Can you prove it?’ I asked him.
‘Of course,’ he said.
Then he plucked a strand of wool out of his jersey and tossed it to me. I caught it between my thumb and forefinger, and the feel of it was so palpably real that it woke me up. -That’s all there was to it.
I told the dream at breakfast the next morning, and I’d hardly finished when my wife spoke. She said that she’d seen a strand of blue wool on the carpet as she was getting dressed. She was sure it hadn’t been there the night before. I rushed upstairs to see for myself, and there it was a little tangle of navy blue wool.”
Buechner is not the kind of person who did séances or sold new-age mysticism books and he hadn’t been keeping company with Shirley McClain as far as I know.
He is, he says, just as much at a loss to explain this incident as anyone else – and he knows that many would explain it away as simple coincidence.
“BUT,” he says, he can’t help but wonder –what are the odds of having such a dream and then finding the matching blue strand of yarn? –He asks himself, and us, “Can this be the whispering of the Eternal–a hint of Transcendence–a brief peek at the mystery of life and death- and the Grace of God?”
Certainly none of us wants to go jumping off the deep end and give up questioning or scientific reasoning, but is it more unreasonable to find some strengthening of faith and assurance of belief in this kind of incident than it is to place all our faith in a rationalism that denies all mystery and demands that everything in life have a logical and provable answer?
Should we reduce life to some mechanical model that makes everything predictable? –I don’t think that model even squares with modern quantum physics—Much less the kind of dramatic unquantifiable experience Buechner had.
At best don’t we have to admit that life is far more complex, far more wondrous than we can explain with provable logic at this point?
Certainly, Buechner is not the only one who has had such an experience. I’ve known a number of people who’ve had something of a similar mysterious experience- flagrant invasions of the mysterious that sets them back and causes them to rethink, or think more deeply, about life’s connections and life’s meaning.
Does it happen every day? –NO, not to anyone I know—But it has happened enough to make me say, “There is more to the picture than we know!?”
In commenting on such occurrences, Dr. William Willimon a former chaplain and prof. at Duke U. –and now a Methodist Bishop says,
“Maybe God flirts,and loves to tease us toward a reality that we –with our facts and figures, empiricism and suburban common sense, routinely walk past without a twitch of curiosity. Maybe we are all like the kid who wore earphones so long, with the volume turned up that the heavy metal music rendered his eardrums impervious to Debussy or a whisper.”
We can’t know factually exactly what the Resurrection was like; the scriptures give us a number of different impressions. What the New Testament does is bear witness to the testimony of the disciples and a few others about this mysterious experience they had of a Risen Christ –that convinced them God was acting in Jesus of Nazareth— Even when Peter speaks about the Resurrection to a skeptical crowd, as in the Acts passage today, he doesn’t try to prove the Resurrection to them… he simply announces it as something he and his fellow disciples have experienced. It has given meaning, new direction, and power to their lives. It has enthused them and redirected their lives.
In our Post-Easter season and our Post-Easter world we are confronted with the incredible experiences of the disciples. We are asked to make sense of them –in some way, over and against our modernist scientific and rationalist thinking.
Some would dismiss those experiences; some would simply put those experiences in a box –as belonging to a special time and place. –Others would say, “No. listen, God is still whispering those messages of eternal hope, still showing glimpses into the depth and breadth of life, still speaking a language of mystery and awe… if we but listen.”
God doesn’t ask us to give up being rational human beings, or to put away science, God only asks that we learn to listen for the dream like whisperings of the Eternal –to catch a greater sense of who we are and what life is about.
Buechner says that his own experience with a dream and a small thin strand of wool just re-confirmed for him that, “Our lives are a great deal richer, deeper, more intricately interrelated, more mysterious and less limited by time and space than we commonly suppose.”
Maybe, the joke’s on us, we think we’ve figured everything out and God has gone one beyond our understanding, waiting for us to catch up and catch on to the unfathomable miracles embedded in life.