“In the beginning…”
The Gospel of John begins with two Greek words: “en arche“. English translators add the article “the”. So almost all English versions of John’s Gospel begin with the words, “In the beginning…” But the Greek is more stark – “In beginning…” And it raises more questions than it answers:
What was before “beginning”?
How did “beginning” begin?
What began at “beginning”?
Why did whatever begin at “beginning” come into being?
If there was a “beginning” will there also be an ending?
Our minds are stretched beyond the point where they function effectively when we try to think about “beginning.”
So, John announces at the outset of his Gospel a fundamental principle for approaching his book.
If we are going to read John’s Gospel, we must read with a faculty deeper than the faculty we use when reading a map, or studying the instructions for assembling a toy. John’s Gospel calls us to navigate deep waters; to navigate deep waters demands deep skills.
“In beginning…” announces that we are going to need to embrace Mystery. To read John’s Gospel, we must acknowledge the limitations of our human ability to understand or express the deepest realities of human life.
There are so many things I do not understand. I am constantly bewildered by my own life, always puzzled by human relationships, and frequently stunned by the complexities of human history.
If these basic realities are beyond the grasp of my comprehension, what am I to do when I turn my mind to the Deep Mystery that is the divine origin of all existence?
The idea of writing G*d, when attempting to speak about the deep Mystery of the Divine appeals to me. It reminds me always that when I speak of God, I am speaking of a Reality beyond the reach of human intellect.
There is great wisdom in the ancient Hebrew tradition that God’s name is unpronounceable. There are things in life that are simply too mysterious to be uttered. This is the territory in which we traveling when we read the Gospel of John; it is the reason John’s Gospel is so well suited to the Christmas season.
Like John’s Gospel, Christmas draws us into the land of Mystery. If we are going to find our way into the depths of this season, we must open to the possibility that there is another realm of human existence. There is a dimension of human experience that is beyond the material, intellectual, psychological, social, or even emotional realms with which we are accustomed to dealing. Christmas invites us into the realm of Mystery.
I do not operate easily in Mystery. I want to understand what is going on. I want things to make sense.
As I approach this Christmas, I am determined to let go of my need to figure things out. I choose to embrace the Mystery of life and to allow my heart to break open to the deeper reality of this beautiful season. In the midst of my Christmas preparations, I intend to keep open to the deeper questions:
Where do I notice Mystery?
How do I respond when confronted with a dimension of life I cannot understand?
What does it feel like to let go of my need to understand?
I determine to pay attention to Mystery today. I will choose to open to the Mystery rather than attempt to confine life to the tidy little confines of my intellect.