In Your Own Words: Kelli B. Trujillo – Mystery

mys·terynoun \ˈmis-t(ə-)rē\

: A word first used in English in the early 14th century to mean “religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth.”
: It came from the Old French mistere, conveying “secret, mystery, hidden meaning” and from the Latin mysterium, meaning “secret worship.”
: It was used—in the Greek—in the ancient Septuagint compilation of Scripture (in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC) to mean the “secret counsel of God.” (Information quoted and adapted from The Online Etymology Dictionary.)

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Lord Peter Wimsey. Harriet Vane. Mma Ramotswe. Inspector Maigret. Kurt Wallander. Erast Fandorin. Sister Pelagia. Carl Mørk. Flavia de Luce. Father Brown. Sherlock Holmes.

This odd band of detectives—peopled from various nations, languages, and eras—have been my dear literary friends through the years. Some of them smoke, drink, brood, and languish. Others write, pray, study martial arts, or collect antique books. But they all question. They all seek. They all discover.

Alongside the mainstay genres that populate my bookshelves (fiction: classical, literary, international; spiritual writings: theology, spiritual formation, classic texts), you’ll always find a mystery novel on my nightstand. Detective stories and murder mysteries: What place do they have in my life? In my life as a Christian? Why am I drawn to these lords and priests, gumshoes and opium addicts, arm-chair philosophers and chemistry prodigies? Why does this genre hold such sway over me?

While certainly there’s nothing overtly (or even covertly) theological in most of the mystery series I love to read (save the inventive murder mysteries penned by theologians Dorothy L. Sayers and Gilbert K. Chesterton), there is a link between mystery itself and the questions that resonate in my soul.

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The first audience reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories lived in the fin de siècle—a time when the Western world was changing rapidly. When new, shocking ideas from Darwin, Nietzsche, and others bolstered a popular questioning of—even rejection of—the common notions of meaning, of origins, of humanity, of divinity. A time when (shock! horror!) some “new women” dared to ride bicycles, wear pants, and even cut their hair. A time when—and I can only imagine how strange this shift must have been—streets that used to be dark at night began to be lit by strange bulbs, aglow with wires harnessing electricity.

And so Holmes’ stories became wildly popular for many reasons, including entertainment value, but at an essential, deeper level, in situations that didn’t make any sense, the lanky and arrogant Holmes somehow made sense of it all. In a world ringing with unanswerable questions, Holmes represented for his devoted fans the idea that answers, if sought, could somehow be found.

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And this is one of the appeals of the mystery genre for me, too: the idea that hidden behind all the details, the red herrings, the apparently disconnected and seemingly random events of this life and this world, there is meaning. There are clues that point us toward a lasting truth. There are answers to the eternal, human questions. What appears to be chaos actually masks a grand, narrative arc.

But it isn’t just the end of the mystery that appeals—when all whos, whats, wheres, and whys have been uncovered and explained. It is the mystery itself—the in-the-middle, before-the-conclusion, grasping and searching and discerning that draws me.

Because my life often feels a lot like that.

Our life—our common, shared human experience—is a lot like that.

For even in and among the answers and truths we find in God, in faith, in the created world, in the Word of truth . . . are the questions. The haunting questions. The persisting questions. The questions that drive us to hunt, to search, to discover. The questions that may drive us to tears. The questions that may drive us to our knees.

And the questions that, ever unanswered, draw us into wonder.

Faith without questions is dull, formulaic, unappealing—suggesting, somehow that we have all the answers. Presenting God neatly defined in a tidily wrapped box.

But faith with questions still intact—faith interwoven with mystery—draws me. Sustains me. Invigorates me. It’s the faith of the questioners, the skeptics, the wonderers, the criers-out who populate the ancient book. This is the kind of faith that holds sacred the capital-A Answers while tenderly holding the questions, the paradoxes, and the mysteries in balance. It’s a faith not afraid of tension or contradiction or complexity that cannot be easily delineated or summed up in a five-bullet-point sermon. It’s a faith that both intimately knows, and doesn’t even begin to know, our awesome and mysterious God.

* * * * * *

I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately. And I’ve also been dwelling in a place full of faith-related questions lately.

Some are deeply painful: Why does our young, vibrant friend have cancer? Why are so many suffering in this world? Why are the evil and corrupt given power to control and destroy?

Others are soul-searching: Where is God showing up in my life right now? When does God seem distant to me? How might I connect with God in ways that are alive and invigorating, rather than stale or rote?

And, of course, there are always the big questions, the grand mysteries. The ones that are both awe-full and awful, tremendous and terrifying. The mysteries of galaxies and black holes and quarks and beating hearts. The mysteries of biology, astronomy, philosophy, and even of theology. The parts of life and thought and love that are shot through with “secret, mystery, hidden meaning.” And the God who, as the hymn writer aptly understood, is “hid from our eyes.”

And so I love mystery. I love to read it, and I love living it. We are all living it. It can be beautiful, engaging, and satisfying. It can be confusing, discouraging, and frightening. But it draws me—it draws us—into something sacred. Into something True. Into the Story we’re crafted to live.

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WORD COUNT: 924

kellisquare

Kelli B. Trujillo is ardently awaiting spring so she can hike with her family. She’s the author of several books including the Flourishing Faith Bible study series and The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. You can read more of Kelli’s musings on faith and everyday life at Today’s Christian Woman (where she’s a regular contributor) and at www.kellitrujillo.com.

 


In Your Own Words

An important part of bringing words to life is encouraging other writers with their words. In this regular feature, I invite other writers to write about one word that captures where they are in life at that moment, much like my own #wordoftheweek writing discipline. What is your one word?


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    Charity Singleton Craig ,

    I first read Agatha Christie when I was getting chemotherapy after my cancer diagnosis. I couldn’t read much else, but the neat endings of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple helped remind me that there is an order to the universe and that God was in control of the details even though the evidence to the contrary was stacking up.

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Kelli. And thanks to everyone who commented. Maybe we should start a mystery reading club!

    • Darcy Wiley ,

      My name means dark/mysterious, so this word is close to home for me. I like how you’ve brought the idea of your stack of detective books together with the concept of the hidden-ness of God.

      Loved these lines: “And this is one of the appeals of the mystery genre for me, too: the idea that hidden behind all the details, the red herrings, the apparently disconnected and seemingly random events of this life and this world, there is meaning…. What appears to be chaos actually masks a grand, narrative arc.” and “This is the kind of faith that holds sacred the capital-A Answers while tenderly holding the questions, the paradoxes, and the mysteries in balance…. It’s a faith that both intimately knows, and doesn’t even begin to know, our awesome and mysterious God.”

      What’s funny with the current hardship I’m facing is that I’m finding I feel more alive in crisis than in boredom. What you wrote here helps me see a little bit of why that is.

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        Charity Singleton Craig ,

        Darcy – I didn’t know that about your name. And your statement about feeling more alive in crisis hits home with me. I can’t continue in crisis for long, though, or I feel the opposite happening. It drains me.

      • Amber ,

        Kelli,

        Wonderful post. Loved Father Brown, Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, and Sherlock from way back. Faith life stripped of mystery no longer is truth.

        • Megan Willome ,

          Kelli, I think you just helped me see why I suddenly got into the BBC series “Sherlock” last spring and have watched it semi-obsessively. I have no answers in my life right now, but somehow he and Watson figure it out. Plus, the BBC just does great stuff!

          • kelli trujillo ,

            Megan, it is a great show, isn’t it? I think we all have a deep need — a drive — for answers. And we all have a deep awareness of how elusive those answers can be — especially during some particularly “mysterious” seasons of each of our lives. I think shows like “Sherlock” and mystery/detective novels do tap into those deeper experiences we share . . . plus they’re great fun!