Mysterious

Sometimes seeing is believing. And sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” –The Conductor on The Polar Express
When I was in the fifth grade, Traci K. asked me if I believe in Santa Claus.
I knew it was some kind of test, because everyone knew my family didn’t celebrate Christmas. And my mamma didn’t raise no fool. I knew it wasn’t right to go around dashing the dreams of others.
But my mamma also taught me not to lie.
At first, I just ignored the question that was whispered across the hall as we stood in line for the restroom. But that Traci, she was a persistent girl. I was frustrated with her determination to make me ruin her delusion. Besides, we were in the fifth grade. Didn’t she know better by now? Finally, in response to one of her queries, I just tossed her a wordless headshake. It was all she needed.
“Miss Bode,” she addressed our teacher—my most-favorite-person-in-the-whole-world. “Do you believe in Santa Claus?”
Miss Bode lifted her head from whatever it was she was doing and looked straight at me.
“I sure do,” she said.
I tensed up, looked straight ahead, avoided her piercing gaze. I could tell by her tone that she thought this was all my doing…that I was going around dismissing people’s ideas about Santa just for fun.
Everyone knew my family didn’t celebrate Christmas.
“I sure do believe in Santa,” she went on. “I believe in the magic he brings to Christmas and the spirit of giving he stands for. Santa Claus is very, very real.”
Even then—even though I didn’t believe in that jolly old round-bellied man with the white beard—even then I knew she was right. Sometimes the realness of a thing is hard to touch.
The season of Advent always seems laden with mystery and unspeakables. There are things in the Christ-child story that are hard to wrap my mind around…impossible to explain. And yet…meditating on these parts of the story awaken some sleeping part of me—maybe that part that might have believed in Santa Claus if given the chance.
In her lovely book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris quotes the poet Scott Cairns as saying, “My only rule: If I understand something, it’s no mystery.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia says this about the great mysteries:
The Old-Testament versions use the word mysterionas an equivalent for the Hebrew sôd, “secret” (Proverbs 20:19; Judith 2:2; Sirach 22:27; 2 Maccabees 13:21). In the New Testamentthe word mystery is applied ordinarily to the sublime revelation of the Gospel (Matthew 13:11; Colossians 2:2; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Corinthians 15:51), and to the Incarnation and life of the Saviour and His manifestation by the preaching of the Apostles (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:4; 6:19; Colossians 1:26; 4:3).
In conformity with the usage of the inspired writers of the New Testament, theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason. Mystery, therefore, in its strict theological sense is not synonymous with the incomprehensible, since all that we know is incomprehensible, i.e., not adequately comprehensible as to its inner being; nor with the unknowable, since many things merely natural are accidentally unknowable, on account of their inaccessibility, e.g., things that are future, remote, or hidden. In its strict sense a mystery is a supernatural truth, one that of its very nature lies above the finite intelligence.
My pastor has been doing a sermon series on the Songs of Advent. Sunday, we read the Magnificat—also known as the song of Mary. It’s one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. As we contemplated the Annunciation and the Incarnation, I felt the power of the mystery of it all touch my spirit and pull at my heart.
Can I accept all these things as truth? Can I allow that God is capable and willing to do these things? I am reminded of a conversation Ihad with my son a couple years ago, in which he told me he was okay with not having all the answers. Then I have to use my imagination to wonder about things, he said. And then he said how exciting that is because, “…God can do anything.”
I wonder if we’ve lost a sense of mystery? I wonder if believing in Santa might help create in a person a longing for the mysteries—a yearning for the sacred.
I wonder.
And how else can we foster that longing? There is no end to the possibilities. Could it be that when we ponder these things, when we ask—as Mary did—How can this be?
Kathleen Norris says, “…I suspect that Mary’s “yes” to her new identity, to the immense and wondrous possibilities of her new and holy name , may provide an excellent means of conveying to girls that there is something in them that no man can touch; that belongs only to them, and to God.”
Maybe the wrestling with the mysteries is like Jacob wrestling with God. We cannot let go until He blesses us. And maybe that it’s in this wrestling that He touches us in the most intimate of ways. We may be wounded, but we will be blessed.
It’s all over my head. So mysterious. But I think I’ll set out some milk and cookies for Santa this year.

With my sweet friend Jennifer today:

and with Jen:

And Michelle:

Comments

  1. says

    LOVE this, Laura. Sometimes Christians get jabbed for pulling the ‘mystery’ card when hard questions are asked. And I guess I ‘get’ that. But I still believe in it. Mystery is central to our human experience, it seems to me. And surely, it is central to faith – of any kind. Electricity is a mystery to me – yet I believe in it, I have faith that when I flip the switch, the light will go on. There is a thoughtful pastor in southern CA who is from the FourSquare tradition (jack Hayford) who wrote a wonderful article for the LA Times several years ago about how important it is to allow our kids to believe in Santa Claus. It exercises the faith muscles, it encourages believing in the Good, it even provides a doorway into talking about the real meaning of Christmas. So, I thank you for these good reflections – and I say YES to the cookies and milk!

  2. says

    LOVE this, Laura. Sometimes Christians get jabbed for pulling the ‘mystery’ card when hard questions are asked. And I guess I ‘get’ that. But I still believe in it. Mystery is central to our human experience, it seems to me. And surely, it is central to faith – of any kind. Electricity is a mystery to me – yet I believe in it, I have faith that when I flip the switch, the light will go on. There is a thoughtful pastor in southern CA who is from the FourSquare tradition (jack Hayford) who wrote a wonderful article for the LA Times several years ago about how important it is to allow our kids to believe in Santa Claus. It exercises the faith muscles, it encourages believing in the Good, it even provides a doorway into talking about the real meaning of Christmas. So, I thank you for these good reflections – and I say YES to the cookies and milk!

  3. says

    Laura,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful testimony to the power of the Greatest Mystery. There are blessings beyond measure if only we will open our eyes and believe. And yes,leave those cookies. Definitely!

  4. says

    Oh, this post has a healthy, balanced taste. As a father of two young, mystery-seeking boys, I’ve battled my share of indigestion on the subject of Santa. There are so many competing voices, both inside and outside the church. The chatter echoes many of those diet or exercise infomercials in the middle of the night. Most of their voices roll off the tongue with such certainty and clarity.

    And they taste like celery.

    By contrast, there’s a sweet mystery in milk and cookies. These days we may need a healthy serving of this — more than we need another plate of veggies.

    Maybe, just maybe, Grace will tell us kids, in the morning, that we’re the ones who get to eat the leftover cookies. All along, they were a gift for us.

    And we’ll be so glad our Daddy permitted us to leave them on the table. Despite those mature voices of reason. Because, really, we are as hungry for mysteries as we are for chocolate chip cookies.

    Sure, celery is crisp, and makes a lot of sense, but cookies are messy. And so gooey.

  5. says

    Our parents told us that Santa Clause was not a true story, but it was a game. We were allowed to stand in line and tell Santa what we wanted for Christmas and then receive the candy cane he offered us. We still sign some of our gifts from Santa. We did the same for our children. They loved to play the game.

  6. says

    Hi Laura, I saw you on my blog. Wonderful story you share. I could relate! We chose to tell our children there was no Santa, yet they were instructed not to ruin things for their cousins.

    Your question is an interesting one. Maybe we are too legalistic…

    In El Salvador (my husband’s country), the Christ child brings the gifts.

  7. says

    The older we get, the more I think we need Christmas . . . to remind us of what we don’t know and to restore to our spirit the sense of wonder that requires us to open our eyes to see and our hearts to understand.

    Lovely post, Laura.

  8. says

    Laura, this made my heart hurt for that little girl, back when everyone knwe that your family didn’t celebrate Christmas.

    And this: “Sometimes the realness of a thing is hard to touch.”

    It undid me, it did.

    Enjoying the mysteries and unspeakables with you this morning, sweet friend.

  9. says

    Oh yes Laura – me too! As a little girl I felt something slip away when I no longer believed in Santa. I shamefacedly admit that replacing him with the mystery and wonder of Jesus took a bit of time.
    I have been slowly savoring the Christmas story in Luke. I was just thinking about the miraculous impossibilities this morning. I thought about the wonder of it all and the very real fact that Jesus lives.
    One of my memory verses this year contains the words, “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one…” Somehow that settles it for me. One day the secrets will be revealed.
    This was so lovely Laura. Your writing is exquisite.

  10. says

    The truth you tell so poetically is hidden way up at the top of your offering. “Sometimes the reality of a thing is hard to touch.” That is the crux of our faith isn’t it? How to touch what our hands and minds can’t grasp….How to embrace a mystery with only a reaching heart.
    Thanks, Laura!

  11. says

    So precious, Laura. On so many levels.

    We did not do Santa for supposedly Christian reasons (that feels so crazy to write), and my now-teens resent me for it. I understand now. I’m more open to mystery. But not as open as I would like to be.

  12. says

    I’m thinking of that line the Catholic priest says in Mass, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” and the congregation responds, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”

    I remember the priest singing that line, and us responding in song.

    I never thought much about that part of Mass as a kid. But just recently I was reading an Advent devotion by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, and he talked about the mystery of faith. And that line came flooding back into my memory…and I just absolutely reveled in it and the fact that mystery is indeed such an important part, a necessary part of faith.

    I fight the mystery sometimes. I want the concrete. The absolute. The spelled-out. But you and Rohr are reminding me that there is beauty and gift in the mystery.

  13. says

    Ahhhhh…..you KNOW I love this! I’ve probably told you this before, but once my nephews were discussing among themselves whether or not Santa was real. They agreed agreed he wasn’t, but the oldest said, “Just don’t tell Aunt Nancy. She doesn’t know!”

    Contemplating mystery my own self lately. You’ve given me some good stuff to chew on.

    BTW–haven’t registered for Jubilee yet, but I’m pretty sure I will. You?

  14. says

    my daughter did not trust that there really was a God after finding out that we were not telling the truth about santa.

    i guess we all have to figure it out for ourselves what is pretend and what is real.

    i know that there are no presents unless i buy and wrap them, and i also know that there are more kinds of gifts than the ones we can buy.

  15. says

    The mystery used to scare me. And when given the choice between fight or flight, I flew.

    But somehow, I was lured back again, like a bird called to return north after spending winter in the south. So these days, I am rather fond of the mystery. For I know that somehow, mystery drew me back home.

    Your post is beautiful. (I mean, really, aren’t they all?) I’m delighted that you linked up, Laura.

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