[One of my favorite programs in the “Spirit of Jazz” half-hour radio series centered on “Mystery.” The series originally aired in the early 1990s, syndicated to a handful of stations in larger markets by the Presbyterian Media Mission of Pittsburgh. I added a few new programs when the older shows played on an internet station in 2011-12. This script was one of the last among the newer programs.]

This week on “The Spirit of Jazz” we consider a sense of mystery.

Not the kind of mystery that we’d call a “who-done-it?” or a crime that Jethro Gibbs and his NCIS team would be involved in solving. No, let’s go deeper… like the mystery of life itself…not in order to come to any solution or ultimate understanding, nor to draw even a preliminary conclusion…but just to admit that there IS mystery, and that it’s perfectly OK to confess that we possess no key to unlock its secrets. That which we do not, will not, cannot understand – let us merely name it, embrace it, be grateful for it, and draw power from it.

As we begin, here is the jazz classic from Thelonius Monk: “Mysterioso.”

[music plays] and then…

I’ve been thinking about the mystery of it all recently. And I suppose the older I get, and I am getting pretty old, the more comfortable I am with the whole idea of “not knowing.” Maybe all of us who are well along in years are becoming more like children in that way. To the very young, isn’t almost everything a bit of a mystery?  Why is the sky blue? Where did I come from? Most of us who have raised children remember that constant question: why? At some point we ourselves may have stopped asking, but never, I hope, stopped wondering  — questioning, searching, puzzling —  why are things the way they are? Isn’t the brain a mysterious thing? What will death be like? How does reiki work?  Or, does it?Why did my friend Mark get cancer? Why…well, why a lot of things!

Now, admittedly, some folks are not amused by this “mystery” stuff. They don’t like encountering things they don’t understand, can’t explain, or fully quantify.  We live in a world of black and white, with not much room for gray, and rarely a tint of color. But mystery is so cloudy, and so colorful, and so full of gifts that keep us wondering and in awe of possibilities, and thankful, if we have the imagination to consider it, for all we do not know and may yet grow into. You want all the answers? No way is God going to let that happen!

What is the question you are dealing with right now? What’s the mystery you are confronting as this minute passes into the next? Here’s some mystery music to use as your soundtrack to wonder with: Pianist Marcus Roberts, and “Mysterious Interlude.”

[Music plays] and then…

That does sound mysterious, doesn’t it? From his CD called Deep in the Shed, Marcus Roberts and “Mysterious Interlude.”  On the Spirit of Jazz, we’re considering the meaning of mystery.

The rabbi and author Lawrence Kushner once wrote: The first mystery is simply that there is a mystery. A mystery that can never be explained or understood. Only encountered from time to time. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else….Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery.

Fred Brussat liked how a French writer put it: There is nothing beautiful or sweet or great in life that is not mysterious. And Brussat adds, “The erotic touch that stirs our desire, the majesty of a rainbow from horizon to horizon, the feelings of power in a sacred place, the voice of a deceased ancestor in our ears, the unconditional love of a pet… all mystery.

That mention of the rainbow is interesting. It’s not really the mystery it used to be, because science has explained it all to us, and if we didn’t learn the science of it in school, there’s always Wikipedia. And yet, who doesn’t stop to look at the wonder of the rainbow. Its beauty can’t be explained.

While the Higgs boson may not be the mystery it used to be, won’t it continue to mystify and defy our human understanding for a very long time to come? Will wonders never cease? No. And that’s why mystery is such a gift.

Some more thoughts after this jazz from  our Spirit of Jazz “house band,” Bill Carter and the Presbybop Quartet, from the 2-CD set “Psalms without Words”  — “Deep Calls unto Deep,” from the 42nd psalm that expresses deep thirst for the face of God.

[music plays] and then…

“Deep Calls Unto Deep”… with composer Bill Carter on Piano, and Al Hamme on sax.

One of my favorite authors and theologians is the Presbyterian Frederick Buechner. In one of his older books called Wishful Thinking he writes,

“There are mysteries which you can solve by taking thought. For instance a murder-mystery whose mysteriousness must be dispelled in order for the truth to be known.

There are other mysteries which do not conceal a truth to think your way to, but whose truth is itself the mystery. The mystery of yourself, for example. The more you try to fathom it, the more fathomless it is revealed to be. No matter how much of your self you are able to objectify, and examine, the quintessential, living part of yourself will always elude you, i.e., the part that is conducting the examination. Thus, you do not solve the mystery, you live the mystery. And you do that by not fully knowing yourself but by fully being yourself.

To say that God is a mystery is to say that your can never nail [God] down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.” So wrote Fred Buechner.

Now, here’s music from the Yellow Jackets: this is entitled “Enigma.”

[music plays] and then… to be continued tomorrow.

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