I've been thinking for a few days about the topic of transcendence. I think that that one term ties together some things that I spend my life thinking about and trying to live out.
Back in 2004, I was particularly enamored with Cedar Lake, so I made a short video about it and how it is "the place to be." I put the video to some nature music. I still remember one of the shots from that video where the sun was glinting off the water in that sparkly way. Wow. Transcendence.
That's a pretty easy example, but I see this transcendence in a lot of things, when I look for it. I see it in epic movies. I see it in history museums. I see it in relationships. I see it in music. I see it on nature trails and in church services. I see it in the lenses of telescopes and microscopes. I see it in technology and in empty fields. I see it in societies and in quiet moments at home. Basically, it's everywhere. It's not as though it's so expansive as to be meaningless, but it's, I will say, the part of everything that reflects the image and the work of God, and our pondering of it is what turns our hearts and our thoughts to the "bigger picture" of humanity and God and eternity.
Wow those are big words. Do you believe me? Do you think I'm just off playing my "paradigm" game on some nice thought tangent? Maybe. But I like stretching my brain like this sometimes. And it just... makes sense too.
I read a book a couple days ago (yes, the whole thing) called "The Divine Romance" by Gene Edwards. In it, he weaves a story about .. well.. everything, about how God created the universe, the earth, Adam, and Eve, and about his interactions in the Old Testament with "Jeru", how things played out during Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and how the culmination of history is yet to come when God is united with "His bride". The story is told as a love story, about God forming a "counterpart" for Himself. Yeah, that might sound sorta weird and heretical, but if the Church is "the bride of Christ" -- well you get the idea. But anyway, it was nice to read that story, and think about some things, about how God sees individuals and yet how humanity has a special destiny in God's eyes, about how God can see the present transpiring and can also look out across time and eternity as though looking out over a distance.. etc. I'm sure the metaphors and analogies aren't all exactly right, but the transcendence aspect is in the attempt. We can't see or understand all that God is, but... we can imagine, we can dream, we can see glimpses of it. And, responsible imagining is a pretty cool thing, I think.
I think my Thomas Merton fanclubism fits into this as well. Merton talks a lot about solitude, and silence, and finding God in the depths of contemplation and inner silence (no not in a weird "find the inner god" way). I think Merton's ideas can be seen as a search for transcendence too. Or, better put, the search for transcendence is the search for God in the real world -- the search for the holy in the normal, the search for transforming the physical realm into something where we can commune with God.
I also like to consider how this topic can relate to memories. There's a line in a song about "when our memories turn to gold." There's something water-sparkly and transcendent about that too. What is it? I'm not sure. Sometimes we see the "flashes of light" in life as they happen. Maybe sometimes we only see the true nature of everyday life when we think back on it. Like, I didn't think much of the ADM corn smell when I was 12 yrs old watching trains there. But, when I smell it now (like I did today), it brings back memories of that time in life, and... it's surreal, and maybe transcendent. Part of that is just the "reminds me of my childhood" happy feeling, but... is it purely just a physical neurological thing? I'm going to entertain the idea that there's more to it. Let's go with the idea that we as humans were made "in the image of God" with a spark of eternity living within us. If that's the case, then maybe we naturally live our moments with some idea of trying to find something timeless about our existence, something that echoes something inside us of timelessness. Our memories, while they might just be pictures stored by chemicals, are a glimpse at something that could be considered timeless.
Beyond just our memories, there is also an idea of history in general. When I was walking around at Beverly Park today, I was thinking about this a little. I was walking on leaves and brush and getting mud on my shoes from the current year's growth. I was watching trains go by and cars go by on Highway 30. But I was also smelling that ADM smell that took me back 15ish years. I took a look again at the old cars there, and wondered again about how they got there in the creekbed -- sometime in the past, there was a story to tell there that is now lost -- and so we'll guess maybe they've been there for 30 years or so. The ground I was standing on was probably set aside during some apportionment as the city expanded in the past 50-100 years. And the ground itself, the lay of the land, the ups and downs, has been there for probably thousands of years. Here I am, suspended in the midst of so many simultaneous stories, and so many bits of history. Put that together, and there's a form of timelessness and transcendence to that too. That thought process reminds me that God is eternal, and through all the ages of all the events that have transpired on that one hilltop, God was there. With thoughts like those, it doesn't take long to feel some inspiration.
Then, thinking back to recent days (Christmas), there is a huge bit of transcendence there. Another topic I've been thinking about lately is the Incarnation. The emerging folks pick up on this idea and talk about Incarnational living and bringing Jesus to the world, etc., but for the moment I want to stick to that capital-I Incarnation. So, God came to earth in human form. That slides off the tongue pretty easily. But think about it for a while, and it can be a lot more than just a line we like to quote. The, well, transcendence of that act, I think, is as exciting and inexpressible as we choose to allow it to be. God, who spans beyond all space and all time and all dimension and all thought, made himself to be one of us.... let your mind run with that for a while (maybe go see the Nativity Story to get your mind started).
I also think about human relationships and how they can show this transcendence as well. People are tricky, and not as clearcut as, say, a nice wooded forest or a smelly corn plant from the past. This reminds me of the idea of soulmates, although we don't have to think in romantic terms with this. But... yeah, we can read about how Adam and Eve knew God and talked with him face to face when time was still young and the earth was still free from its corruption and darkness. We think about all the attributes of God and all the matching attributes he desires for us to possess and share with those around us. That is the recipe for transcendent relationships and transcendent communities, and... it's always a goal. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but as I go through life, just as I look for something timeless and sparkly in lakes and in the train horns, I also look for something even more timeless and even more transcendent in the people I interact with.
In the Divine Romance book, the story is told of how Jesus during his life on earth would on occasion just stop what he was doing and gaze off into space. At those moments, his mind would stretch out beyond the confines of space-time, and he would think about the timeless nature of things going on, or see battles in the spiritual realm, or remember things spoken in spiritual realms millenia ago. It is those "gaze into space" moments that I think I look for. Maybe I don't want to actually "zone out" and be a daydreamer (I can't stop time like Jesus could), but... I want to be aware enough of my surroundings to see and appreciate the spiritual in the everyday. I'm also always looking for others who share that same desire, and... I don't think many people really understand this transcendence thing. Maybe I'm just out on a limb doing something weird. Maybe other people find their "transcendence" in some way that I can't see. I don't know, and I'm not here to judge. I just know that there's something to it for me, and it makes life a lot more interesting I think.