Spiritual Places · Touching Transcendence · Uncategorized

The Search For Transcendence: The Experience of War

37 mm gun crew in battle, Saipan, 1944
37 mm gun crew in battle, Saipan, 1944

In his book What It Is Like To Go To War (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011) Karl Marlantes describes fighting in the Vietnam War and the actions of men he served with. Marlantes steps back to reflect after watching a comrade charge into the heat of battle, seemingly oblivious to the danger.

Why? Who was he doing this for? What is this thing in young men? We were beyond ourselves, beyond politics, beyond good and evil. This was transcendence.

War is transcendent? Marlantes describes how war calls out of warriors qualities that feel mystical: awareness of your inevitable death, concern for others above yourself, feeling part of a community, and focus on the moment.

I’ve had many family members in military service. My dad served in the Army during the Korean War. Aunts, uncles, cousins served; some were “lifers” or married “lifers.” I do not pretend to adequately discuss the sacrifice of our warriors. But can we look at a bigger idea: our desire to touch transcendence. I don’t know if any military recruit enlists for that reason. But once they find themselves in the heat of battle, in the middle of a moral or ethical dilemma, or completing a successful mission, do they experience a moment, a feeling they will never forget? That changes them forever? Is that why loyalty to comrades is so strong and something civilians envy?

But we haven’t paid the price for that moment of transcendence. We haven’t undergone the rigors of training, serving, separation from loved ones, or war. It’s a price often paid with a life.

We want that transcendence too, but look for it in ways that aren’t so costly or fraught with peril. That search seems to be built into every human being.

Do you search for transcendence?

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Art As Conversation · Creativity of Language

Evelyn Underhill and the Language of the Mystics

We don’t use the word “mystic” much in contemporary Christianity.  I think a major reason is that “mystical” brings to mind long flights of emotion, even ecstasy, or getting lost in a spiritual moment, kind of like my experience when the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl a few years ago, all except for the spiritual aspect.   Steelerslogo

OK, back to real mysticism. (You mean football isn’t a religion?) How about trying the Lora Zill definition:  getting lost in the presence of God.   How do you describe that experience to others, or better yet, to yourself?  What kind of words do you use?

Sometimes we have an almost mystical experience when we encounter nature, such as when we see a multicolored sunset or a double rainbow, perhaps, and try to capture and describe our feelings by using the words “awesome,” “cool,” or “beautiful.”

EvelynUnderhill
Evelyn Underhill

But somehow those words seem totally inadequate when describing an encounter with God.  I don’t know that I have an answer, really, because I, too, grasp at straws sometimes even while writing this blog.  And I’m not trying to describe a mystical experience, just my own walking on this earth, with some “God” thrown in.

Speaking of mystical and mystics, you’re probably wondering about Evelyn Underhill since I led off with her name. She was a 20th century mystic that I have just recently come to know through her book, The Spiritual Life.  A friend “just thought” I would like her.  If you call stopping my reading every few pages so I wipe tears from my eyes “liking her”, I guess I did.

So, let this blog serve as a brief introduction to Evelyn Underhill and mystical language. I’ll be sharing more in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.  Looks like the 2013-14 football season won’t lead to mystical experiences for Steeler fans, alas, so I’ll have to “settle” for mystical encounters with God.