02 February 2013

To know or not to know?

I believe in mystery.

I don’t know who or what created the heavens or the earth or me, and I don’t need to know.

In fact, I do not want to know. The world doesn’t need more people who think they have the inside scoop.

There’s something, yes, mysterious about experiencing the world through the eyes of ignorance, free from the clouded lens of traditional belief. If I begin by knowing I don’t know, to paraphrase Socrates, I learn more, see more, do more. To embrace mystery is to stay young, to be always a child on the inside, regardless of gray hair, wrinkles or creaky bones.

The mystery of what lies ahead wakes me each morning and carries me through each day. It makes me savor the feel of the bed against my body at night, the slow drift into the world of sleep and dreams, and the return trip toward another mysterious day.

I don’t want to read any book that claims to give me all the answers. I want to read lots of books and let each one reveal to me a mystery new to me. Why does my husband love me? Why does the moth fly into the flame? Why is falling asleep outside on a summer night so fine?

Am I destined for hell then? Could be. Some people probably think so, but who really knows for sure? It’s a mystery, and I’m okay with that because I want to experience as much of mystery as I can and write about it. 

Not to solve anything, mind you. None of us ever really solves anything. All we do is leave breadcrumbs for someone else. And the most we can hope for is to find the crumbs someone left for us. They may be hidden in a dream, pressed between the pages of a library book, dropped along a gravel road. They may be contained in a shard of sea-blue pottery, a feather, a mangled wrapper, a pressed leaf—each one pregnant with the secret of how it came to be where we found it.

This is what it is to be human. 

To me, this is religion

In fact, when I dream about writing, the setting of the dream is church because this is a holy thing.

I lead writing groups, and I tell those who write with me that it’s a writer's job to embrace mystery and get comfortable with not knowing. It’s a little like getting lost on purpose and learning to like it. Writers must make certainty their enemy and their senses their best friend. What does the mystery look and feel like? How does it taste and smell? What is the sound of it and how does it move across the pages of our lives?

Writers should do this so that those who hide behind certainty—which is all of us at least some of the time—will know that it’s okay not to know. Because too much certainty smothers possibility.

Because mystery, if we let it, can grow and open inside us, like a flower. 

Like a flower in nature, it opens so wide that it wilts and seems to die. It gives everything in a splurge of beauty and pain just so it can make the seed the wind sows.

And that's why mystery is the only resource that will never run out. 

PROMPT: NPR ran a series of personal essays on the topic "This I Believe," which are archived online here. Read a few, then write your own. Mine was written in my Saturday morning writing group today, Feb. 2, 2013, Thank you to Mark, Miriam, Sadie and Linda for your comments and encouragement.