The Mystery of


Mystery in the morning.  At dawn.  Seen in the reflection of the lake before the wind awakes.  Invisible amidst the noonday sunshine.  But truly felt. 


I was about to write something about “mystery” that I felt upon rising, before the muse had vanished like a Saturday cloud.  Then the frame print in the living room fell to the floor, scattering glass through the room.  There were mundane things to address, shattered glass.  The mystery that I had in mind was not heard or seen, but felt. 


Two years ago I went to an art exhibit on Russia.  “Miriskusstva: Russia’s Age of Elegance.”  I bought a coffee mug there that I saw this morning for the first time since the purchase. 


Russia.  About 6 years ago I sat down to write a historic novel.  I never quite reached the end.  The story was set in Russia at the time of its conversion from communism to capitalism.  It was a time when oligarchs took over and vied for power with the government, as Russia opened up to the media.  It was the wild wild west, an era of scarce jobs, of power plays between the Russian Mafia, of massive fluctuations in currency value, of new political parties moving in to fill the void of the past.  The culmination of the story was to be the day in August 1998 when all these investment bankers fled, when the Russian government defaulted on more than $40 billion in government-backed securities.  It was a time of panic.  That panic has seemed much more real in the current financial times.  And in all of my reading there always was reference to the mystery of the Russian soul.  What it meant?  In a nation where there was so little religious practice.  A son or daughter did not get admitted to Moscow State University, the Harvard of the East, unless they had connections to the Party.  Public policy was party members could not be seen in Orthodox churches.  Yet there always was reference to the mystery of the Russian soul. 


Last night there were two shows on public television.  The first show was “God On Trial.”  Set in Auschwitz, one prisoner declares that God should be put on trial for letting his people down. Another prisoner, a rabbi, explains that challenging God is not without precedent and he proceeds to set about establishing a rabbinical court, which requires three judges.  To hear lines expressed in a concentration camp, “God is here suffering with us.  He is here in the suffering.”  At the time, who believed that goodness would win out?  Where does all this evil, all this goodness come? “Let there be something that they cannot take away from you.  Do not let them take your God.”  (See


 Last night there was a second show on public television about a Philadelphia artist who was contacted and offered the chance to spend a summer in the Irish town of Ballycastle to paint the landscape.  Stuart Shils was his name.  He actually could stay as long as he wanted.  So the invitation stated.  The message that an artist creates and sends out to various parts of the world in art was a sense of that mystery about a place.  He went to Ireland.  What the TV show showed as well as what the artist expressed were comments of the ever changing landscape.  The light.  The changing light as the clouds moved over head.  I listened to this Philadelphia painter, this Jew, talk about the land here around Ballycastle which grabbed hold of his soul, and express what it brought out of him.  He felt connected to this part of the world that he never imagined existed.  And he saw something in the people there that he felt in his own people, a pain inherited from the past.  In 1975 Jill Urich put together Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, about the same time her husband, Leon, was writing the historic novel, Trinity.  Painters saw what Jill Urich tried to capture in photos of the Irish landscape.  Ireland:  A Terrible Beauty could just as well be a title all about God’s mystery. 


Mystery.  The mystery of creation was as deep as the ocean.  The degree of His mystery was every bit as comparable to His power and might.   Sometimes shattered.  In Auschwitz.  In Russia.  In Ireland.  Or here in my living room.  Mystery, as powerful as the Irish sky, in a Ballycastle that regularly had world famous people drawn to its neighborhood. 


Mystery.  I lived in a town where gusset plates held together bridges every day and no one gave them a first much less second thought, until they no longer worked.  Or did, prior to August 1, 2007.  Bridges for the most part could be ignored at speed of 55 miles per hour or more, the way most of us lived life once we acquired driver’s licenses.  It was not always so in this world.  


Mystery.  It was everywhere.  There was mystery.  Suffering taught something mysterious.  Pain was inherited from the past.  In the guy in the wheel chair.  Or on all matters of health, physical, mental, fiscal, spiritual.  There was mystery in the caring.  The different degree of the caring in each human.   And the degree of this caring about someone was the mystery.


Pain was inherited from the past.  Suffering taught something mysterious.  In this show about the artist in Ireland, Stuart Shils made reference to the Midrash, and the importance to him attending a showing to hear the commentary on his own art.  And the Midrash, he said, was the commentary on the Torah.  What did people say about the work?   In a sense, the mystery of life was the commentary here on creation.  The degree of caring.  You and I were the Midrash.

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