Rev Bob Wilkes
Oxford city rector, Parish Church of St Michael’s at the Northgate

As I write this, a wing flap washed up in the Indian Ocean is being investigated.

It is amazing that numbers stamped on every component in an aircraft enable the engineers to tell what model of plane – or even which actual plane – this piece came from.

The mystery of flight MH370 lost last year is in our minds. The wing flap may tell us where the plane was lost. If only we could then find the black box.

However, even if we get to answer all the technical questions about MH370, we may still be left with the question: why?

We all experience grief or disappointment when we are hit with a big blow. We continue to live with the mystery of it.

I like reading the Psalms, because human experience is there – the writers often cry out to God: why?

We do not get all the answers.

At a lighter level, there are more mundane mysteries: the roadworks in Oxford; how to manage the economy; the “northern lights” in the Lyra constellation; or the way a certain person reacts to us?

Surely, in our developed culture we can figure out all of these.

What about how others behave towards us?

We may be happy about their behaviour, or we may be hurt by it, but it will often feel “beyond us”.

The kindness of another person, or their animosity, may both be a puzzle.

If we think that other people are a puzzle, try working out ourselves.

The ancient Greeks, who liked pithy wise sayings, had a favourite motto: “Know thyself”. That is a life-long task.

Christian tradition has kept going some good habits of the spiritual life. One is the “examen” – before sleeping you think over the day, not to whip yourself, but to observe and learn.

We notice how we felt in a situation and learn more about ourselves.

We are saved from neurotic introspection because we do this consciously in the presence of one who is greater, who knows us, and who loves us.

For sure, “Mysteries ‘R’ Us”, but, in the safe space of love, we can grow into deeper insight, and live at ease with a measure of mystery.

I got thinking about this – and bear with me for being a bit “churchy” now – because in early August Christian churches remember an unusual event recorded in the gospels written about Jesus.

Jesus took three of his close followers up a mountain, where they were given the experience of seeing Jesus in a whole new light.

When they told the story afterwards, “the brightest light imaginable” is how they described it.

They were able to see Jesus in the flow of God’s love for his people which had been going on for centuries.

He was seen with Moses and Elijah.

The technical term given for this moment is the “Transfiguration”.

Faith thinkers often write about the “mystery of God”.

For me, this mystery is more than a puzzling situation which needs some technical explanations.

Think back to the mystery we often encounter in our relationships.

Why does that person treat me – whether well or badly – like that?

When Jesus took his close friends up a mountain to stretch their imaginations, God was drawing them into a deeper relationship with him.

There will always be mystery, because this love from the God of all is beyond us.

However, God has made himself known, especially for me – speaking as a Christian – in Jesus.

Living at ease with the mystery of the loving God helps us live with the other mysteries – perhaps particularly ourselves.