I once asked a very talented magician how she did a particularly astounding close-up trick.
"Very well," she replied.
Though she was correct, I was disappointed with her response. I wanted to know the secrecy behind the magic.
I quickly learned to accept the joy of the mystery, and years later learned to consent to mystery and awe as essential to my life.
Now, as time (a mystery within itself) grants me the pleasure of revisiting philosophers, scientists and theologians shelved for 40 years, I find myself sojourning with those who have preceded me or join me now.
One of my fellow travelers is Albert Einstein (who made me feel alright as a child with the name "Albert" when I would have much preferred "Ted" or "Bill"). With all of his scientific knowledge and acclaim, Einstein wrote poignantly about what he called "cosmic religious feeling."
Addressing a sixth grade Sunday School child's question about whether scientists pray, Einstein replied:
every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe a spirit vastly superior to that of man and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble."
Einstein did not believe in a personal God, an anthropomorphic judge, but in "a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality." He would go on to say that "morality is of the highest importance but for us, not for God."
My own reading, responding and reflecting on life beyond the immediacy of the moment allow me the freedom to wade through the wonders of life and to breath deeply inward the awesomeness and awfulness of life. For me, more so than ever before, the shared mysteries of life, ever changing as life itself, send me deeply inward where I re-discover a commonality with all life and then outward where I am, for my own sense of well-being, compelled to share and become one with the awe.
Religious literatures of all people instruct me on the sanctity of the primary search and the secondary importance of the answers. God becomes neither judgmental nor manipulative, but the cohesive and collaborative mystery in which I we and all that exists becomes One.
And prayer, which Einstein saw as "a wish addressed to a supernatural Being," becomes a means of unifying the individual with her deepest human convictions, the community with its most profoundly shared needs and values, and our universal condition to understand the magic and the mystery.
If, at life's end, I am asked to summarize all I have learned, I want to be ready to say: "Life is a mystery floating on a sea of awe and I swam in it … as often as possible, with the current."
Albert Micah Lewis is rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City, a member of the Governor's Commission on Aging and director of the Aquinas Emeritus College in Grand Rapids.