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Mochas, midrash and mysteries: Persons are persons — and mysteries

“... every man is the image of God, whether he is a believer or not. For that reason alone everyone has a series of virtues, qualities, and a greatness of his own.” — Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis)

A person is a person is a person. And, an irreducible mystery.

The self-evident nature of these statements must be underscored afresh (especially considering the tone of some current political debates): white, black, Mexican, European, disabled, rich, poor, believer, atheist, Jew, Christian, Muslim.

We create categories galore; the essential truth remains that we are all made in God’s image and likeness and therefore deserving of respect, having both rights and responsibilities. We are persons. We are mysteries. We are called to live in community.

Pope Francis (then Cardinal Bergoglio) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka, in their 2010 compilation of dialogues, "On Heaven and Earth," addressed the topic of atheists. Rabbi Joshua Boettiger in last month’s article in this series commented on the humility that both men of faith displayed in admitting the arrogance of some believers: holding God as a certainty, a surety that all should subscribe to.

In “On Atheists,” Rabbi Abraham Skorka affirms the necessity of valuing each person as G-d’s living icon. He also shares a perspective regarding the limits of surety: “Following Maimonides’ line of thought, we can say what G-d is not, but we can never be sure of what G-d is. We can talk about His qualities and attributes, but in no way can we describe His form.”

Pope Francis adds an observation from the English medieval mystical tradition: “The English mystics speak a lot about this theme. There is a book by one of them, from the thirteenth century, The Cloud of Unknowing, which attempts again and again to describe God and always finishes pointing to what He is not.”

Rabbi Boettiger’s closing thought in last month’s reflection on this vignette (“On Atheists”) from "On Heaven and Earth," captures something crucial: “When we can remain open to mystery, we can remain open to one another; and when we are truly open to one another, we are living a holy life.”

Our task — believer, doubter, atheist — in community is to remain open to one another as persons, as mysteries to one another. Our humble standing in awe before the mystery of the other person opens our hearts to the “more” that informs reality.

Whatever we call that more, we can agree that you — the person I am encountering in this moment — are a person and a mystery. In you, I experience an intimation of the more of existence. In this recognition, we have true common ground for cooperation and for building a strong and diverse community that embraces and makes respectful space for every person.

To echo Rabbi Boettiger, we are “living a holy life.”

Daniel Murphy promotes human flourishing through Integrity of Life Services LLC, and is a member of Our Lady of the Mountain Catholic Church in Ashland.