August 20th, 2014

From January 1946 to September 1947, the great American fiction writer Flannery O'Connor kept a prayer journal. A practicing Roman Catholic from Savannah, Georgia, she had, at age 21, gone to Iowa City to study writing. Faced with intellectual challenges to her faith she could not have previously conceived, at one point she penned, "Lord, make me intelligently holy." Toward the end of the journal she cries out, "Oh Lord, make me a mystic, immediately."

Whatever the intellectual challenges to faith Flannery O'Connor faced in 1947, they are substantially greater today. The sheer scale of the universe, now hypothesized to be 92 billion light years in diameter, presents a cosmology that bears little resemblance to what most of us envision when we read the Bible. Some theoretical physicists speculate that there are parallel universes, and there are at least four different theories about how they originate and function. Being both intelligent and holy on a daily basis is easier said than done.

I don't know about you, but all of this drives me crazy, partly because I don't have the scientific training or brain power to understand the physics. More importantly, I have spent a lifetime trying to understand and make sense of what you and I generally refer to as "life." What is the meaning of life? Where did we come from and where do we go? How do we live well and powerfully amidst all of the contradictions and sorrows of this life? Biblical truths have always undergirded my search for these answers, and they still do, but modern science continues to amplify the questions without providing any truly satisfactory answers.

Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), often described as a mystic, once offered this advice:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

I find that rather compelling. Like Adam and Eve, I am perhaps guilty of constantly reaching for the Tree of Knowledge when all I need do is to celebrate the garden in which I have been planted. Today, my prayer is the same as Flannery O'Connor's: "Lord, make me a mystic, immediately."

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