Mysterion: Sacred Scripture as Mystical
Mysterion was a term introduced to me in graduate school theology by a Dutch professor who then spent the entire time unpacking what is meant. The course was on Sacrament. Every time he said the word, I was drawn in by a desire to explore more deeply why it had such an impact on me; this term and what it meant. It is not a concept, it is more of an experience. But how can I convey that experience to you?
It refers to hidden wisdom rooted in religious experience; a rich dimension and experience to be entered, partaken of, and lived. Maybe talking about Wisdom will help. Wisdom is Sapientia in Latin. We savour the substance that gladdens and nourishes us. This flavour or delicacy (sapor) in the mouth of the soul assures us that our knowing (sapore) has as its object the true God. The taste of God. True wisdom. So mysterion has to do with spiritual tasting. For example:
John of the Cross has one goal – that all other tastes be renounced for the knowledge and unending enjoyment of the Beloved.
“In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and, when I went out wandering over the wide moor,
I no longer knew anything
and the flock I once tended now was lost.
There he gave me his breast, there he taught me a knowledge
With most delightful taste,
And I gave myself to him keeping nothing back…”
(Spiritual Canticle 26 & 27)
John wants the heart to see, hear, and know – to experience the mystery.
The Sacred Word is meant to overturn human prejudices and opinions – it disturbs. Even Our Lady felt this upset after her visit from the angel Gabriel: “My soul is deeply troubled because I am to give birth to the King.” (Advent antiphon) Out of this disturbance, the heart wants not only to hear and see; it wants to understand and to penetrate the mystery – to admire it even more, to plunge into it and make it its sole nourishment. The heart wants to hear, see, touch, and be carried away.
Perhaps our exploration of mysterion needs to move into its source, namely Jesus. Who is this Jesus of mystery?
Jesus, says Heb. 1:3, reflects “God’s glory and [is] the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” He is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1Cor.1.24 Jesus himself says: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” Mt. 13.35
Jesus is all the fullness of all reality both of the creation and of God himself. Col. 1.19 Julian of Norwich says of him: “Jesus Christ that doeth good against evil is our very Mother: We have our Being of him – where the Ground of Motherhood beginneth – with all the sweet keeping of Love that endlessly followeth. As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our mother; and that shewed he is all, and especially in these sweet words where he saith: ‘I it am, the might and the Goodness of the Fatherhood; I it am, the wisdom of the Motherhood; I it am, the Light and the grace that is all blessed Love.’” Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 59.
The mysteries can be understood only from within their flow, by one who has already been initiated and leapt into the flow, by one who has responded wholeheartedly to “Follow me.”
Call to Discipleship
A former member of a crowd who, having been called apart by Jesus, has chosen to follow him to “where he lives,” to welcome Jesus as Messiah, who have faith enough to open their minds and hearts wholly to his presence and influence.
Christ wants disciples for today. Where shall he find them? Is it possible that it could be from among ourselves? What about those of us who have lived an adult life responsibly? Who have suffered the trials of rearing a family, of overwork, of sickness, of loneliness and loss? Of betrayal, persecution? We have the raw material for discipleship.
A disciple of Jesus has a passion for simply abiding in the company of Jesus, they need continually to be with him, and eventually, to act in him and through him. Jesus invites the disciple to follow him to a place set apart.
By going toward him we are entrusting ourselves fully into his creating and molding hands. He intends to make us anew, according to his own heart, a heart capable of feeling, thinking, and loving like God himself. By going to him we are willingly moving into a great unknown, we are taking a great risk.
Being good friends of Christ does not mean we are always at our best. But we are ready to begin again. And again. And yet, again.