After a week of intense fog and thick inversion, the scene at Mt. Sinai from this week's portion, Yitro, may seem unexpectedly familiar:
As morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud settled upon the mountain. . . while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
Of course the Torah is speaking metaphorically here. God does not actually live behind a cloud on a mountain somewhere on the Sinai Peninsula. But God is, more often than not, hidden from us. Veiled. Shrouded. A Mystery.
For those who seek absolute clarity, who like things black and white, this can be deeply frustrating. But as many spiritual seekers have noted, it is precisely God's mysterious nature that allows for subtlety, complexity and paradox in human life. If God was too obvious, in plain sight, then faith would be too simple.
So, too, with our rites and rituals that strive to bring us close to the Holy One of Mystery.
Sometimes, we lament that there are parts of our service that we do not understand. We may be frustrated with the Hebrew, unfamiliar with the choreography of Jewish prayer, or just perplexed by certain traditions and practices. Needless to say, much of this can be ameliorated with some simple explanation, translation, and a commitment to regular attendance and learning.
But not all of it.
Some of the experience will always be a little murky and unclear. Beyond rationality. In other words, a mystery. Like the Mystery it attempts to approach. We are not alone here. In his blog post, "A Beginner's Guide to Becoming Episcopalian"(http://tertiumsquid.com/) Gordon Atkinson notes:
"Here's the deal: do you really want to go to a church for the first time and understand everything that's going on? Do you really want to walk into the most sacred hour of the week for an ancient spiritual tradition and find no surprises and nothing to learn or strive for? Do you really want a spiritual community to be so perfectly enmeshed with your cultural expectations that you can drop right into the mix with no effort at all. . .
I do hope you'll give this a little more effort than that. Because something wonderful can happen when you stop trying to figure out what you should be doing in a worship service. When you admit to yourself that you don't know what's going on, you'll just sit and listen. Because that's really all you can do. And that's actually a very nice spiritual move for you to make."
God is behind the cloud--as She should be.
Sometimes the hiding is what makes for the joy of the finding.
And sometimes, as Iris Dement sings below, it is enough to just "let the mystery be."