I share with many people a love of a good mystery/crime drama. In the face of unanswered questions and leading clues and interesting coincidences, the curiosity itch begs to be scratched; the dots beg to be connected; the loose ends beg to be tied up; the ghosts beg to be laid to rest; and the mystery begs to be solved. Most American-made films and TV shows will follow some pattern that takes viewers on a thrilling ride with surprising plot twists and sharp turns, character reversals, clarifying dream sequences, and the occasional dip in the paranormal pool and it all resolves to make it worth your while. Well, the predictable ones do anyway. Mediocre storytellers are content to just entertain their audience, sending everyone home happy mostly, secure in their views, unshaken in their convictions. But the better storytellers will demand their audience keep asking questions, immerse themselves in the pursuit of answers, and acquire the tools they will need for when mystery chances upon them on the road. I believe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not satisfied to simply write about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I suggest he knowingly decided to unleash countless Sherlock Holmes’s upon the world to observe every relevant fact, unravel every knot, and pick apart every motive to arrive at truth, because just as Bachman Turner Overdrive reminded us in 1974, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” I couldn’t have seen it coming then. I was 10.
In my exploration of worlds mysterious and paranormal recently (yes, I poke under those rocks too), I came upon an interesting term with wide-ranging implications in many different aspects of life. S.E.P. On a continuing basis our physical senses are bombarded all around with information whether by sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch. We are naturally inclined to ignore most of it and instead attend to the one or two that immediately grab our attention. On occasion we will choose to face the chaos head on but deliberately filter out the white noise, so we get to decide what is most important and what deserves our focus. Those on the spectrum with fewer pre-installed filters can more easily get overwhelmed by the deluge of information, so they function best in an environment that is calm until they learn to navigate the quagmire. The rest of us do that with much less effort. But some of us will choose instead to just zone out and shut down convinced it’s all someone else’s problem. Hence, S.E.P. Someone else’s problem.
When my senses perceive what is difficult to grasp, I will always reach for the most sensible explanation I can find. When I describe new experiences, I will refer to things I’ve seen and sounds I’ve heard before. An unidentified flying object looks like a saucer or cigar. A violent storm sounds like a freight train. An attractive person reminds me of some celebrity. A warm fuzzy is an angel’s comforting hug. Strange noises arouse my darkest fears since far worse things are known to lurk in the dark. And when I’m too shaken by what I’ve seen or heard, I may just claim instead to have seen or heard nothing. Shutting out what I find uncomfortable means it didn’t happen. The quicker I return to normal the better. It’s no longer my problem. But it’s yours if you want it.
When we take in entertainment in the mystery/crime drama genre, we come to the realization that human beings are more than capable of some truly horrific things. Gradually these revelations will cease to concern us. We become more sensitive to odd behaviors and notice innocent signs more. We become more suspicious of people, less trusting. We can take things at face value less and less. Instead, without apologies we ask more intrusive, probing questions, and withhold the benefit of the doubt. We give in to cynicism and the darkness grows ever deeper within and around us.
Today we proclaim to the nations the revelation of the glorious Mystery of the Incarnation, God come in human flesh for all to see. The mystery imposes nothing, simply presenting us a child like any other. But if like Mary we ponder the sign, we are drawn deeper into the heart of God to grasp the depth of God’s compassion for fallen humanity. We can choose to ignore it as many do—just another S.E.P. But if we choose to embrace it, the mystery has power to transform us. We discover the tremendous destiny to which God calls us and we start to notice with greater ease the stirrings of grace and the subtle advance of light and truth. We become less fearful, more trusting, more forgiving, more willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. We shed the mantle of cynicism and instead radiate a genuine joy along with true conviction in God’s design for all creation. If all we see is a child in a manger, the mystery remains hidden from us, and the light cannot dispel the darkness within and around us. But if we immerse ourselves in it and become convinced it is not just another S.E.P., not just another Someone Else’s Problem, we will not be able to walk away unchanged. And like the wise men, we cannot ever return home by the way we came.
Approach the manger and ponder the newborn child in his mother’s arms. Immerse your heart in the mystery and embrace transformation. God comes as one like us to be with us, and signs will proclaim more clearly his life-giving presence and ever-transforming love. There’s way more to Christmas than just what our physical senses grasp, because b-b-baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Rolo B Castillo © 2022