Living with the Mystery 1

A field shrouded in mist - the mystery of the field beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing

Looking for Answers

Guest Column by Amanda Guthrie

Like many others, I am a person who likes to have answers. I studied math in college for a reason. I love to puzzle out a problem, and, in college, I could spend hours happily doing so as long as, eventually, I found the answer.

Unfortunately, the business I find myself in now does not lend itself to problem-solving or answer-giving. As a hospital chaplain, I am regularly asked questions to which I do not have an answer: “What is the meaning of life?” “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” “Where is God when I’m suffering?”

A field shrouded in mist - the mystery of the field beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing

I have thoughts about each of these questions – all fairly well formulated given my training in seminary and work at a church and hospital – but I can’t claim to have the definitive answer to these or any of the other big questions posed to me on a regular basis.

Beyond the Field

The thirteenth century Muslim poet, Rumi, wrote:

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’

doesn’t make any sense. [1]

 

This field intrigues me. Out beyond our ideas of what is right or what is wrong, there are no answers. There aren’t even words or languages with which to speak them.

Dwelling in the Mystery

Perhaps smarter people than me can tell you more precisely what Rumi means here. What draws me to these lines is the encouragement they give me to rest in ambiguity – to not have the answers, to be satisfied with not knowing. These lines entice me to dwell and wander in mystery.

According to Google’s search engine, mystery means “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.”

Some mysteries are delightful ones. Mystery novels and movies keep us on the edge of our seats, eagerly putting together clues in hopes that we will solve the puzzle before the author or director does it for us.

Other mysteries are more painful. If one has lost a loved one to suicide (I have), one wonders: “What happened?” “Could I have done anything differently?” “Why wasn’t I enough?” If one has experienced trauma, been given a terrible diagnosis, or struggles with addiction, one might wonder: “Why is this happening to me?” “Will I ever be healed?” One might ask any number of questions and be given few satisfying answers. These are less desirable mysteries – things that are difficult, if not impossible, to understand.

Imagination in the Service of Mystery

It is these kind of mysteries that make me curious me about the field beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing. “Is it possible to somehow be okay – perhaps even satisfied – with not having the answers?” I wonder. “Is it possible to revel in ambiguity? To delight in a space without words or languages with which to speak them?” Perhaps these questions point to mysteries in their own right. But my inclination, instead, is to give an answer, to say: I hope so.

In just a few days, young children will run from house to house in their costumes, trusting they will be given treats over tricks. Halloween gives us adults permission to turn on our imaginations, too. We can dress up. We can put up decorations and play spooky music on our front lawns, creating a whole world for our neighboring trick-or-treaters— a world quite unlike their day-to-day one.

Entering Rumi’s field requires this kind of imagination. It requires that we step out of our usual day-to-day worlds. It requires that we release our grasp from the need to have answers and, instead, behold our lives with a bit of lightness – perhaps even a bit of playfulness. In doing so, we might feel some excitement. But we might also feel some fear.

To Truly Meet One Another

I can’t tell you what it’s like in the field – there are no words there, after all. But I believe I have been there before. I have, for moments, felt unburdened by the less pleasant mysteries in my life and, instead, felt that I rested in a greater, richer Mystery. I have felt, at times, something like a peace that passes all understanding, trusting that the Holy One is Big and can hold All of me.

“Out beyond ideas or wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I do so hope you’ll join me.

In faith and fondness,

Amanda

Credits

  1. Translation from Coleman Barks.

Photo by Sonja Langford on Unsplash


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