Transcendence is the Secret
Two weeks ago, I invited my dear friend Tallu for lunch. This was not to be an ordinary PB&J sit-down, but something very special. I put sweet-smelling flowers all over the house. I lit an assortment of candles, so my kitchen transformed chapelesque. I spread my table with an embroidered linen tablecloth and set my favorite French plates. Apron on before sunrise, I prepared a lagniappe of a summer feast, including a dozen of my famous banana chocolate chip muffins. I brewed a special tea with verveine leaves from my garden and sweetened it with my own honey. Our favorite band, The Indigo Girls, was the musical backdrop.
Tallu has a gift for elevating the most ordinary encounter or conversation into something incredibly sacred. She has mastered the art of gently pulling a corner of heaven down to earth for any blessed to cross her path. In Tallu’s company, life has a special shimmer and love is easy. That day I wanted her to experience just a little of what I feel being her friend.
There is no solving the issue of our finite existence. Aristotle suggested we not focus on “the end,” but rather ways to flourish in the present. The American psychologist, Abraham Maslov, wrote about the necessity of having “peak experiences,” where present reality is perceived as sublime; the brutal is forgotten for the beautiful—the ordinary radiates with transcendent meaning. To borrow from teenage jargon: life gets a glow up!
Transcendent moments hint of eternity. They offer a marvelous divine experience where the temporal falls away, hope fills the heart, and we are convinced that all will come together for good. These quicksilver episodes can happen in the presence of nature’s beauty, as witness to a miracle, but most often in powerful exchanges of love. The poet, Walt Whitman, claimed transcendent experiences manifested by “locating God in every hour.” Theologically, I believe we are always in the presence of God and it is up to us to acknowledge Hope-in-the-Room. Since the beginning, mortals have longed for something more than the material; that their lives were anything but ordinary. The Church has a compelling repertoire for pulling heaven down to earth. We light candles. We anoint the air and our bodies with sweet-smelling and healing oils. We sing canticles. We kneel and pray for life in abundance. Sometimes we feel the shimmer of the Spirit moving among us.
Imagine if we turned hospital rooms into chapels; gathering tables into heavenly banquets; exchanges with one another into gifts of encouragement; and even made transcendence possible for someone else.
In “The Book of Farrell,” I want many chapters of “shimmering moments”—where life is experienced as holy. Often transcendence happens in the dark, lonely and despairing because in vulnerability redemption becomes possible.
One secret to the art of transcendence is simple: seek God’s face always. Fall in love with life given and keep doing it over and over again—the gifts of people, nature, food, new experiences, art, music and inventive ideas. Be magnanimous often. Believe, believe, believe that a corner of heaven can be pulled down on your watch. Be careful because you are unlikely to have many peak experiences if embodying the cynic, regularly seeing your glass half-empty.
Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Stop waiting for a miracle and start participating in one!” If the pandemic has taught me anything, the time must be now. Tomorrow might be too late. Dare to elevate the ordinary and make it something special—even holy.
Live in Hope,
***The incredible watercolor above is by the wildly talented and soulful artist Evie Coates. She does commissioned work***