Uncertainty vs. Mystery

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Mrs. Whatsit is traveling, but she’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about this essay by Martin Shaw. In it, he says:

“WHAT IF WE reframed “living with uncertainty” to “navigating mystery”? There’s more energy in that phrase. The hum of imaginative voltage. And is our life not a mystery school, a seat of earthy instruction?

There are few tales worth remembering that don’t have uncertainty woven into them. Without uncertainty we have mission statements not myth. We have polemic not poetry, sign not symbol. There’s no depth when we are already floating above true human experience. And true human experience has always involved ambiguity, paradox, and eventually the need for sheer pluck. Uncertainty doesn’t feel sexy, I admit. It can derail confidence, make us neurotic, doubt ourselves. But mythic intelligence suggests we have to negotiate such terrain for a story of worth to surround us. I don’t say this lightly; it has real testing attached.

The Handless Maiden, alone in the dark forest—she knows uncertainty. Odysseus, trying to get back to Ithaca—he knows uncertainty. The Firebird caged by a Russian Tzar—she knows uncertainty. Uncertainty is a jittery passport to the kingdom of the living, inevitable for all. Having lived half a century in its energy field, I make no pretense to like it much. But understand it? See its value? I do.

But to navigate mystery is not the same thing as living with uncertainty. It doesn’t contain the hallmarks of manic overconfidence or gnawing anxiety. It’s the blue feather in the magpie’s tale. Hard to glimpse without attention. There’s no franchise or hashtag attached. Navigating mystery humbles us, reminds us with every step that we don’t know everything, are not, in fact, the masters of all.”

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