“Transcendence” is popularly equated with that which is “above the ordinary” or even “above the material world” – within the realm of the Divine. Transcendence is often closely linked with what we think of as “spiritual”. And “spiritual people” are commonly expected to have transcended/risen above all worldly concerns, needs or desires – sometimes literally sitting on a remote mountain top or heavenly cloud. Our own lives, in comparison, can seem hopelessly mired in the mundane!
The Latin root of the word “transcendence”, however, points less to a remote permanent destination than to a journey into the heart of the present moment. Rather than being distracted and disheartened by the mundane, in those moments we find our spirits renewed and our hearts opened to the forces that create and uphold all of life.
While countless rituals and objects have been devised to help create such blissful experiences, they can happen anywhere and at anytime. The challenge when they do happen is to allow these experiences to transform us, informing our actions (rather than causing us to focus on recreating the experience).
Direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder” is one of the many sources from which Unitarian Universalists draw. In fact, it’s the first of six listed. It is recognized as something affirmed in all cultures: an experience of reality that, however briefly, moves and changes us.
The American Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century, which helped shape Unitarian Universalism as it is today, promoted the idea that divinity is to be found not above, but within the material, natural world.
Take a walk through the woods or along a beach, look closely at a seashell or child’s hand, and you are likely to sense that there is far more to this forest, this ocean, shell, or hand than is visible to the eye! The idea might even come to you that the distinctions between them are mere illusion.
That feeling of oneness can be utterly intoxicating. But it’s what happens “next” that defines you as a spiritual being.