“I know that look on your face. I know the secrets you tell. You’re every mood I can trace. I guess I could say I know you well. But how can I say I know you well. Cause when I look in your eyes I see a million miles across an endless sea. I wanna sail the waves and make the great discovery. And when I hold you in my arms the beating of your heart is calling out to me. I’m holding a mystery. How many songs will be sung? How many words will be said? How many stories of love lie deep within you waiting to be read? And I want your story to be read.” This beautiful words are the lyrics of the song, Holding a Mystery by Steven Curtis Chapman, American contemporary Christian music singer-songwriter.
I will repeat my favorite line, “When I look in your eyes I see a million miles across an endless sea.” Need I say more? Taking time to look into the pair of eyes of another person, we can realize that there is a whole new world that is waiting for us. We are left in awe of the mystery of the person. It touches us deeply. That’s why we are afraid of others especially those who are different from us. The space between us reveals its sacredness when we allow each person to be authentically themselves without fear of judgement. We can stay in that space as long as we tread gently with mutual trust and respect. The secret of keeping the space is not to try to fix or resolve any problems but to leave it as it is acknowledging our incapability to know fully.
Holding the mystery of every human being is what the world needs right now. We have seen enough consequences – how the world has suffered by breaking the sacred space with ignorance and disrespect. Fear and insecurity lead to violence and hate crimes against the religious minorities and marginalized identities. If all we do in response to this crisis of the world is to put blame on a certain group of people or turning away from engaging the world, we would end up repeating the same mistake of ignoring the mystery of every human being. We can heal and mend the brokenness of the world by holding the mystery of everyone else. Admitting how little we know is the starting point.
Today’s gospel reading is actually talking about how to honour and live with a mystery. There were two incidents in Jerusalem, which everyone was talking about at that time. One was regarding Pilate’s violence – he killed certain Galileans while they were offering their sacrifices in the temple. Another incident was when 18 people died because the tower fell on them. Some of those who were around Jesus were still talking about those horrific and tragic incidents, and brought to his attention. His response was harsh. “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He was basically saying ‘shut up and go back to work.’ The work was to repent – to turn around, to change their hearts so they could live differently. At first, I couldn’t understand why Jesus said that. They had to talk about it because they were deeply affected by it. They were living in constant fear under the empire. But as I pay more attention to how people these days react to incidents, similar to what happened in Jesus’ time, and how they go about their daily lives unchanged and unmoved, I understand why he said what he said. Jesus was inviting his friends to embrace the mystery by knowing how little they knew. As always, he didn’t teach without telling a story.
It’s about a barren fig tree in the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard found no fruits on this fig tree, so he ordered the gardener to cut it down. But the gardener asked for one more year with the promise to look after it with more attention and care. The owner’s primary concern is getting more profit out of the vineyard, whereas the gardener’s concern is looking after the trees. The owner can only see the outcome, whereas the gardener is able to see the hidden fruit deep within the tree. For the owner, fruitlessness is the tree’s problem, but for the gardener, the fruitlessness is the systemic problem that needs a holistic approach; how the tree is connected to its essential elements, whether it gets enough nutrition from the soil, sun, water and air. While the owner is disappointed by what he only sees externally, the gardener has a faith in the tree, refusing the common practice of removing the fruitless tree, and enduring the pain of bearing no fruit together. Holding a mystery can save life.
A wise Indigenous elder recently shared his lamentation with me how the school system fails to honour the mystery of individual students. He said, it’s not that students fail the school – in fact, they never fail – but the system fails students. For example, Provincial tests, while they do provide academic achievement standards, put students into categories of success or failure. He said, that’s just one example of how colonialism makes impact on our lives through the education system; it hinders us in seeing everyone else as a gift to the community regardless who they are and what they can do.
Going back to the song, Holding a Mystery, I will read the line one more time. “When I look in your eyes I see a million miles across an endless sea. I wanna sail the waves and make the great discovery.” While holding the mystery of everyone else, we can’t give up on hope or shy away from others. Instead, we want to know more, search more and yearn more with a holy curiosity. We can be the gardener in the story, helping each other to root deeply into God’s wisdom, love and compassion, fertilizing souls with prayer, with assurance that there is enough time and enough grace to grow together.