Don’t Tell Me There Ain’t No Mystery

These words from troubadour Bruce Cockburn in his seminal song Mystery are haunting. Mystery has been educated out, spanked out, combed out, mocked out and preached out of our very souls.

And so again this past Sunday I found myself in search of mystery on a stunningly beautiful Rocky Mountain trail at sky edge at over 10,000 feet elevation. As this flatlander struggled for every breath, thoughts flooded my mind.

“Tall Tom” first introduced me to hiking when I was 17 years old. Looking up into his warm blue eyes and listening to his slow southern drawl, although six feet five inches, in my youthful adulation, he seemed about ten feet tall.

I will never forget rushing past him on our second trip, so sure that I had impressed him with my natural hiking prowess, when later that evening around the campfire, he asked me a question I will never forget.

“What was your hurry?”

“Did you happen to see the stand of virgin hemlock we passed about three miles back?” “How about the rattlesnake curled up next to the trail about a mile into the hike?” he gently asked. “Uh, what?” I stuttered. I reluctantly confessed I had completely missed them.

He then began to explain in that slow drawl of his—the art of searching for mystery in nature. Many years later, I realized he was wisely using nature as a metaphor to equip me for a lifelong search of mystery. He was preparing this gray questioning lad for encounters  with the black and white naysayers whose life goal is to debunk and destroy mystery.

“Don’t tell me there ain’t no mystery.”

—What about the mystery of the Trinity?
—What about the birth of my children?
—What about the peaceful solitude of a hike at 10,000 feet in the middle of the sensory overload of nature?
—What about the mystery that takes place during communion?
—What about the Milky Way?

My dear friend Ken Davis says that we are surrounded by naysayers of mystery on both sides of the spectrum. We have the naturalists of the world that believe everything can be explained by a mathematical formula. The other side of the coin are Christians who are afraid their faith is threatened unless every aspect of God can be explained and neatly packaged.

Both sides are afraid to use the words, “I don’t know.”

How about you?

Does it scare you to say “I don’t know?”

Do you believe in mystery?

If so, where do you find it?

47 Responses to “Don’t Tell Me There Ain’t No Mystery”

  1. “I don’t know” has been one of the hardest things for me to say because that phrase carries such a vulnerability that is anathema to society today. It’s putting you in a place where you’re not in control and having to admit you don’t have it all together or know it all. Yet I think it’s the very place that I as a Christian need to be if I’m to be where God can really lead me to where He wants me to go or see what He wants me to see.
    Jason´s last blog post ..I dream of someone who I hardly know

  2. I love mystery and find it often:

    In my wife’s eyes, in the Hoopoe bird’s beautiful plumage as he feasts on my lawn, in the death of a friend and mentor, in the friendship connections across the oceans, in poetry, paintings and hymns and in the steady breathing of my sleeping children; vulnerable yet secure.

  3. Hmmm, I don’t know.
    Rocco´s last blog post ..I Wish I Had Known…

  4. I’ve found that being able to say “I Don’t Know” allows me to replace my dogmatic beliefs with “Truth”.
    Rocco´s last blog post ..I Wish I Had Known…

  5. Thank you Randy, I am opening my eyes to see it all around and increasingly delighted by the ‘events’ that cause me to see the mystery in all things. Your post reminds me of the fourth-century C.E. poet T’ao Ch’ien who wrote beautifully about the mystery all around us:

    “I gather chrysanthemums at the eastern hedgerow
    And silently gaze at the southern mountains.
    The mountain air is beautiful in the sunset,
    And the birds flocking together return home
    Among all of these things is a real meaning.”

  6. ….in the small of her back. Sometimes I linger there for what must seem like an eternity to her. To quote the troubador a second time, it’s that “suddenly compact universe of skin, and breath, and hair.”

  7. ….and one more thing. Increasingly, I find the cultivation of unhurried intimacies very mysterious. Peterson said it best, “We need alert listeners to give dignity to those stretches in our lives when we are not aware of participating in anything we think might be embraced by the kingdom of God…….with such listening, we get used to living a mystery and not demanding information to footnote everything that is going on.”

  8. …but did I mention the small of her back yet? Amor nulla retrorsum. To love: the danger from which there is no retreat.

  9. Like you, I certainly discover mystery on trails. In music. In literature and poetry. And in love and relationships. But I also find it in my fears. Where certainty ends and faith begins.

    My parents, sisters and I often quote this to each other: “There are no answers. Only the search.” It’s from the movie Pure Country. It’s what the grandma says to the George Strait character. And it’s so true, because it captures the mystery, those moments we long for an answer or sign and don’t get it.

    It’s not about finding answers or blazing trails. It’s about the search, the hemlock. If only I could be reminded of this more often!

    Thanks for the reminder.

    (Disclaimer: I hated that movie, but my family loved it. I got great quote from it, so I can’t complain.)
    Keith Jennings´s last blog post ..What if every inconvenience could go away today

  10. I love this post. I know I don’t know and I think you already know I’m not scared to say that I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe men have more problem saying they don’t know?

    About mystery. It’s the mystery of this world that made me realize that someone or something must have made this all and not just created by a “bang”. The beauty is sp awestricking that it’s just not possible to be created by a bang, but by the greatest Artist ever with the most amazing taste.

    We live nearby the sea and we walk or cylce a lot along waters or the sea. My mum taught me a mystery. To listen. To listen to the sound of wind. To listen to the sound of the wind going through the leaves of the tree, to listen to the sound of wind going through reed, to listen to the sound of crashing waves. I love watching clouds. I have a love/hate relationship with storms. I hate them because they distroy but I love them for the beauty and mystery. The most awestricking mystery is a child. It always blows me away how they can love in this broken world and be a blessing to us.

    Really Randy, you hit it again with this post.

  11. Not only do I believe in mystery, I don’t believe we find it. It finds us. Every time an unknown becomes a known mystery shifts to another column. Mystery is the gift or essence of accepting the need to not know and allow it to just BE.

  12. I believe that you are correct in saying that for Christians it is uncomfortable to say I don’t know. Especially when a child passes, or someone who has some incredibly difficult disability. We want to explain everything. I have learned that I don’t know all of the answers expecially to the most important questions. Mystery can be kind of fun sometimes, because It helps us to dream or imagine about things or talk to God more.

    • @Patty, Yes. I agree. As an Arts Pastor in an evangelical church, I was always required to explain art and avoid mystery. We did have to explain everything!

  13. Randy…great insight. I am in total agreement! So many times we miss the moments that fill us years later. We grow old feeling empty, when all we had to do was embrace the mystery of the moment and allow it to fill us with wonder and awe.

    I heard JJ Abrams recently say, “Mystery is more important than knowledge.” When I heard this, it resonated deep within. I feel that people in Western Culture have explained away mystery in an attempt to feel “safe” rather than embrace the beauty of not knowing.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. My husband says this to me all the time. Especially as it relates to business. He always says, “If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, just tell them “I don’t know, but I can find out.”.” This is so true! Don’t be afraid to say I don’t know. We don’t have all the answers and that’s not a bad thing.

  15. I just wanted to add one more thing. I think I find the biggest mystery is that of the heart. our human hearts are so fragile and yet we can love fiercely! Our heart and the love we feel and give, now that’s a mystery!
    Brittany Inman´s last blog post ..The Walk of Life

  16. i’ve been reading “Jesus Manifesto” and there is a quote from Chesterton that says, “The Riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” Sweet and Viola go on to say,

    “…embracing mystery opens the door for appreciating how infinitely ‘beyond’ all of us our Lord really is. It produces heart-awe mixed with a peaceful confidence in a God who is bigger than we can ever imagine. Those who live by faith can live in the presence of mystery and be motivated to rest in God’s loving care. The person who walks by the physical senses alone will be tempted to reject mystery–even though it’s an essential part of the Christian faith. And this often leads to the frail and foolish attempt to explain a God who is beyond explanation.”

    yep, sometimes i just don’t know.
    Chuck Harris´s last blog post ..another Jamie Cullum cover…

  17. that was Mr. Beaver. When Lucy asked him if Aslan was quite safe, he replied, “of course He’s not safe….but He’s good. He’s the King”
    Chuck Harris´s last blog post ..another Jamie Cullum cover…

  18. {Does it scare you to say “I don’t know?” Do you believe in mystery? If so, where do you find it?}

    No it doesn’t scare me – infact, I’ve not a problem at all saying, “I don’t know?” If indeed I don’t – why pretend (lie) that I do? How is one to learn if they don’t remain teachable?

    Yes, I for sure believe in mystery. Most of this world & the ppl in it are a mystery. LOL The way computers & the internet work by wave lengths is a mystery… ex: facebook — leave a post & within a second others can see it…?
    Joni Sweet´s last blog post ..Photo Creativity

  19. Saying I don’t know doesn’t really scare me at all; to know everything is to be bored in my opinion. There’s no exploration needed when you think you have discovered it all. I think there is freedom and wonder in the midst of a mystery. God is Himself mysterious. Who could aruge that His mystery is overrated or even limited?
    Meredith Dunn´s last blog post ..Compassion Bloggers in Guatemala- Coming Home

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