“in love with the mystery” – ann mortifee’s new book

“mystery” – how do you talk about it? “the deeper you go into it, the more difficult it is to name,” says ann mortifee, and “everything becomes mysterious after a while.”

the first mystery that struck me as i entered st. mark’s church where ann mortifee’s launch for her new book and CD in love with the mystery was held was the image of paul horn, her soul mate and husband. there he was, standing in front of a cross as he gracefully welcomed the raging applause. why did this image speak to me so insistently? i don’t know. there seemed to be, in my experience (was it only mine? did others feel it, too?) a sort of communion, communication occurring between the man and the cross. who knows? no, i don’t know.

the word “mystery” is rooted in the greek myein, to shut, to close. it is that, perhaps, which is closed off to our knowing. all our knowing? or just the intellectual knowing?

ann certainly walks bravely into that thicket of unknowing: with words, images, music, and her voice. oh, her voice! it comes from a deep, deep place … and reaches a deep place inside us. when she let all her shamanic power loose and hurled that voice into space, she sang it into our ears and hearts – and again, into those deep spaces in between, where the mystery lies.

in love with the mystery is something physical you can take away that captures all of this. all the senses are engaged. “the whole work is a synaesthetic feast, an offering for the divine beloved,” says carol sill, who did the editorial work. the book feels good, has a nice heft, the pages are lovely to the touch. strange to talk about a book like that – aren’t you supposed to talk about the content? but any book lover will understand. there is something exciting, almost erotic, about touching, holding, weighing, allover feeling a new book. in love with the mystery is a book you want to hang out with, a book you can open on your lap while you drink a cup of tea on a quiet sunday evening, and while you listen to the music that accompanies the book. in addition to ann’s powerful voice and paul horn’s flute, miles black and edward henderson’s beautiful guitar complete the synaesthetic whole.

there is something melancholic about in love with the mystery – and it makes sense, given its history. in her talk, ann spoke often about the pain that deepens our understanding – shattered dreams and “the grit of disappointment.” these experiences inform the content of the book but there is more. the gentle images that form the background to ann’s writings were created by award-winning photographer courtney milne, who did not live to see the finished work of art. as well, the stunning design by diane jensen-feught was crafted in grief, as the designer mourned the death of her parents.

instead of an excerpt – you’ll just have to read for yourself – a few poignant lines from the talk:

“how does the mystery come?” asked ann.
“just keep breathing.”


  1. Fascinating article. Reminds me of what I just read in Poet’s Market 2011: that a great poem can make everything fall into place, or make sense, or it can make everything that once made sense, muddled, mysterious.

  2. I’m struck by how we have reduced “mystery” to murder mystery series on PBS. I think it would serve us all well if we re-opened ourselves to experiencing Mystery much more widely – including the Mystery of “the grit of disappointment”.
    And re: “heft” of a book. As net-oriented as I am, I have concluded that I really prefer paper-books. I miss holding them, and flipping pages and seeing them laying around the house. So back I go to brick-and-mortor bookstores.
    And I’ll most definitely look for this one. It sounds right up my alley (that’s not the phrase that matches the book, but you know what I mean)

  3. You said – closed to all our knowing or just intellectual knowing? I wonder about that, once we “know” something then is it intellectual? If so, then the unseen behind that becomes the “unknown”. Then again that which was once “unknown” becomes “known” due to our human propensity for exploration, and so forth through the hall of mirrors infinitely – OR is there a realm that is known and a realm that is unknown? The discoveries and intellectual understandings all happen in the known sphere (“nothing you can see that can’t be seen, nothing you can know that can’t be known” – my fuzzy recollection of the beatles lyrics there.) That which can’t be “known” is then in the realm of “unknown” or mystery. Yet the wise have always known beyond mind. What do we call that knowing?hmmm… improvisation? playing? the divine play….

  4. @rudolf: “muddled, mysterious” – that’s an interesting juxtaposition. makes me think of a swamp. it’s a substance that’s mysterious because it’s so complex and at the same time to simple-looking.

    @nancy z – yes, a murder mystery is more or less synonymous with a puzzle that you just have to sit down with, put your head to, and you solve it. but i’ve always liked the idea of “mystery” in a spiritual context. christ’s death and resurrection, for example, has always been a mystery to me, in the sense that i cannot quite grasp it and, honestly, expect never will.

    @carol – your comment reminds me of the work of german philosopher max scheler, who talked about knowledge as “a participation in the being” of an object, rather than the “knowing about” an object that we commonly associate with knowledge. i’ve always seen that as parallel to “power with” vs. “power over”.

    interestingly enough, the idea of knowledge itself is a bit of a mystery …

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *