A Great Mystery

A Great Mystery

The thing I am most certain about is the uncertainty of life. For all my years of reading philosophy, mysticism, religious texts, etc. I have no idea what life is about. I have theories, but there is never certainty. There is always a skepticism lurking nearby, which I suppose is always healthy.

I am certain that life is a mystery and that I will never rationally comprehend it. Life is the mysterium tremendum. I am certain that profound experiences are authentic, but their source eludes me. In his book, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto wrote,

this mystery is [for humans] not merely something to be wondered at, but something that entrances him; and beside that in it which bewilders and confounds, he feels a something that captivates and transports him with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzying intoxication; it is the Dionysiac-element of the numen.

To describe this overwhelming experience of the sublime, Otto gave us the word, numinous.

The fact of uncertainty in the face of such mystery is why Kierkegaard penned The Sickness Unto Death. He thought Christianity could solve his dilemma, but it only intensified it. It is why Dostoevsky wrote novels; it is why Goethe wrote Faust; and it is most likely why Nietzsche went insane. In fact, it is why every thoughtful person thinks what they think about human existence.

It is our Western epistemological bent that demands full knowledge of the meaning of life. Surely, there is more satisfaction to be found in the experiential, the “dizzying intoxication” of a starry night; standing in a forest of redwood trees, gazing up at their majesty; or becoming enraptured in the amazing view from a mountain peak. Do we really require meaning, or is it a Western trait which we have learned via enculturation?

Why are we here? Are we here to know, or simply to live, to be? I have come to accept this world as “the vale of soul-making,” as John Keats wrote

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is ‘a vale of tears’ from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven-What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please “The vale of Soul-making”. Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say ‘Soul making’ Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself (John Keats, Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 1819). 

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