November 2011 Village Newsletter
Behold – a Mystery. The Turn of the Screw…
…and not the one by Henry James
‘It’s a mystery’ said the plumber, and he wasn’t referring to his bill. ‘How did THAT get in there?’ For several weeks, the water in the vicarage had been making moaning noises. Alone in a big house, as nights draw in, the sounds were disconcerting to say the least. Then in the cloakroom, the water stopped running altogether. Armed with a screwdriver, I tapped a joint through the wall in the garage. Some water was restored, and the moaning disappeared. For the time being.
The diocese sent a tradesman. He drained the system and dismantled the limiter valve in a pipe. ‘Guess what it was?’ he asked. ‘Can’t’ I replied, as I tried not to lose my place in next week’s sermon. He showed me the limiter valve, and inside the pipe was a cross-headed screw. Moaning resolved. Water flowing freely again.
Here’s the mystery. How did a ¼” cross headed screw, now entombed in limescale, get into a pipe in the Vicarage garage, and when? We’ll never know. It’s a mystery. One of my favourite bits from Handel Messiah is A trumpet shall sound. It begins with a bass who sings Behold, I tell you a mystery. One of the prayers said during Holy Communion starts ‘Great is the mystery of faith.’ The response concerns the death and resurrection of Jesus.
You see, some things defy rational explanation. We talk about them with youth groups, at confirmation classes, and when tragedy strikes. Why did this happen? Why is the world the way it is? How can we have faith in what we are asked to believe?
I do find the word ‘mystery’ something of a comfort. I’m in the minority, I know. These days we expect not only chapter and verse, but live video and learned analysis too. Nothing defies explanation. Someone is responsible and must be held to account.
The trouble is, life is not like that. It seems to me that we can only scratch the surface of knowledge. We know more than we did, but much of our so-called ‘knowledge’ is mere speculation. Even the Big Bang theory is being abandoned in favour of something called Inflation, and heaven knows there’s enough of that already. And even the most erudite are unwilling to speculate on what occurred before whatever it was that went bang in the first place.
Now you might be the sort of person who sits worrying how a cross-headed screw might find its way into your plumbing, and whether there might be more of them lurking and ready to start moaning at dead of night. Me? It’s just a mystery, and will ever remain so.
Faith is a continuum. There is a big overlap between mystery and faith, whatever some people would have you believe. We all range along that continuum. Sometimes we are high in faith and low on mystery. Other times, we are doubting Thomas. That’s the mystery of faith.
The church, of course, can help with our struggle. Being a Christian separated from others is not impossible, but very hard. It’s like practising football alone. You look a little silly when the opposing team turns up. When young, we ask lots of questions, but look for certainty. When older, we ask less but are more willing to explore, to reflect, and to accept that much of what we don’t understand comes down to a matter of faith – it’s a mystery.