Whether it’s one of the central defining aspects of my life or the fact that it’s both tragic and freeing, I’ve embraced enigma. I do not know nor, at this point, have the means to know about my life between birth and roughly 9 months, I’m intrigued by what is unknowable. I’ve always inherently felt this presence of a shroud of mystery, but appreciate that it can be named—definitively: enigma. I connect with the ineffable, somehow.
Once I heard a minister say that the story of the sacrifice of Isaac has been ruined because everybody knows the ending. That lit a fire for me. I decided to attempt to enter the excruciating horror of Abraham before he knew God would save him from first degree murder of his son. It was thrilling. I wondered at my fascination with this horror. It was a departure from a sense of knowing, really knowing God—and the answers that people have for our lives.
The practical application is that when a child in my classroom acts in ways that confound me and other adults, I’m intrigued by the enigma. This sounds cliché, but it’s more of a connection. This is not to say that the child does not frustrate or cause me to hurt for them. But it allows the freedom to say that sometimes diagnosis is less freeing than admitting enigma.
There’s something demanding about our need to know. It feels like conquering. It feels smug. When things are off-kilter, there’s a sense of finally admitting that loss of control is the true state of things.
Now, of course, I don’t celebrate cold cases or incurable diseases or whisper campaigns intended to obscure. But give me an honest-to-goodness scientific mystery—for instance, how did the animals on Madagascar end up there—and I relish this enigma. You’re free to speculate.
Even the word seems to flirt with the N-word—a word that people like to prove that they don’t use because of its ability to cause pain. Yet the feelings that give power to that word lie beneath the surface. Enigma calls them out.
Enigma begins with e- which has become ubiquitous and trendy. It ends with –ma, kind of folksy and slightly hick. These three parts taken separately do not seem to fit into a single word. There’s a sense of cloak and dagger. Of moonlit nights in locations just out of the reach of time or space. That’s what enigma promises. You just never know what is festering, roiling or contrastly existing just out of reach.
Accepting the enigma infuses that dab of quirky or whimsy to an otherwise familiar setting.
I’ve often connected with Good Friday—espousing a sense of Christian Reformed emo- or goth to my appreciation. But this attempt to enter the inscrutable suffering of Jesus Christ and to mourn this person no one in the room has ever met personally is letting go of the knowledge of His resurrection. It is the enigma. The possibility that God could be destroyed for an instant by man, at God’s own choosing. Much of the power of these remembrances is watching familiar, self-assured people, setting aside what they know is true and entering a night of uncertainty and doubt, willingly. It’s the Abraham story before the ram appears. Enigma.