Whispers from the creator swirl and stir, rousing the cosmos from her slumber. His sweet-nothings caress her pristine and maiden ears. She, the newly beloved creation, responds with embrace: a mere sphere of spoken words. Electricity sparks and excites a reaction. Nuclear fission ignites, releasing heat and energy. Earth, beloved, takes her supple form while heat from the creative passion encompasses her. The porous ground of this new planet forms, opens and, from the fertile black loess and loam, rises steam in plumes, allowing the malleable soil to divide from its tenderness; separation and sedimentation into liquid and solid.
The residual steam is drawn to a providential spot on creation’s terrestrial surface; it is here that the air enshrines thick and wet, dripping in fresh opulence. Undulating hills of alluvium and colluvium expand in the warmth like sponges and release more of their moisture, pulled deep from the abysmally prosperous compost.
The creator rests, contented in the afterglow of love, and watches as prolific variations form the landscape. Certain areas- void of internal liquid- become tough and compact; the layers press together amid the heat and form rock. On one side, rivers cascade down jagged rock mountains. On the other side, deserts form in their absence. Seas pool together after the slow cutting knives of cool waters slice their way down the mountaintops. Soft planes split. Creation is dynamic and alchemic, ever-changing and ever-transient. But there is a strange stillness where the steam collects. Plants and trees rise from seeds. Softly, they levitate and sift through the steam, drinking in the moisture through a drawing inward- an inhaling through veins of leaves and needles: capillary. Chlorophyll soon covers the naked landscape and, when all the steam of the earth is consumed, a lush garden appears.
The garden is flush with life having drunk the wine of creation’s passion and, for a time, the earth is at complete peace, resting in its form. However, the lingering silence is broken with a pleasing exhalation from the creator. With that, the winds of creation lift the nutrient-rich dust off the earth and twist it together to form life. Humans from humus.
Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground.”
We are naive creatures of dust.
God had created an abundant garden from the same dust as us where Adam and Eve could have access to all but one thing: the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In that garden, the serpent planted the idea in the human spirit that what is available to us is not enough- that we need more. Thus, through deceit (from an outside force) was birthed humanity’s first insecurity: discontent and, consequently, the propelling drive to relieve it. Our garden parents were told that they -and we- will be like God; that, with one simple bite, we will escape our humanity and become like God, knowing good from evil. Then, and even now, the serpent tells us that eating of the fruit allows us to break our human limits.
We fell for it. We pressed our lips against the skin of the fruit, broke our teeth into the flesh, and let our tongues taste the libatious nectar inside. And we were ashamed of ourselves.
We, being the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, have the rudimentary yearning to move beyond our normal experience. We have a fundamental desire to be like God (to “surely not die”). This is what drives us to be eternal. It drives us to live forever and not be contained by our earthly limits: to not die, to know everything, to go everywhere, to experience everything, to be everyone. This persistent yearning for more is why we are constantly searching for ways to transcend normal human experience.
We are constantly faced with the limits of being a human. We only have a certain amount of energy, a certain amount of resources and skills; we can only pursue certain passions and certain relationships. To be human is to be limited. Since we are creatures, created in the likeness of a limitless God, our souls yearn to be limitless. But we were intentionally created with limits by the creator God and, because of this, we will never feel like we have enough time. We will always hunger to transcend ourselves.
This is most evident in the ways we seek to transcend the limit of time. All-the-while, the economy is trying, quite literally, to capitalize on our limited nature- to capitalize on the fact that we are dissatisfied with our limits. Technology, as the premier idol of our time, is marketed to us as the answer to our prayers; as a vaccination to this fear of never having enough time. It is marketed as a way for us to transcend our limited time; a way to transcend our very humanity.
Even today, as with Adam and Eve, the serpent hovers near- eternally loitering and lingering over our shoulders. Stalking; prowling; subtly whispering, “with one bite, you will be closer to escaping your cage of flesh and bone. With one simple bite, you will have the ability to transcend your human limits.”
Therein lies the alluring temptation, the sweet deception: to move beyond our human limits. Transcendence is that next step which sits in view but is just out of reach. It becomes our means of human escape, defined by Merriam-Webster as, “existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.”* Transcendence, in essence, means being able to experience and exist outside our physical bodies.
Transcendence piques our attention with its promise of freedom. In fact, in first world countries, with so many civil freedoms already achieved and protected, our bodies have become the final frontier of freedom; the manifest destiny yet to be conquered. Transcendence is the means to achieve ultimate freedom. Like technology that promises to break us free from our limited amount time, transcendence appeals to the same hope of being free from the limits of time; it is the hope of freedom from an entropic body with its limited number of days. Each moment we live is a moment we take out of our future and place in our past. This is a fact of life but we are prone to give into fear and scarcity in the face of this truth. Out of such fear arises our search for the fountain of youth, which continues perpetually alongside the path of humanity as we move into the future.
These days, we see humanity’s hope alive in ads for cremes that hide or fix wrinkles and blotches, surgeries that tucks or removes our saggy bulges. Underneath it all is a great discontent of life inside a temporal body. It is a discontent of our existence within a creation made with limits. This discontent leads to many permutations of transcendence. Especially today our insecurities ring true. We want, at all costs, to be free. We want to be free to do as we please, go where we please, be who we want to be. Ultimately, we want to be free from limits -especially those imposed by external forces. However, what we are truly searching for is not the freedom from outside forces but freedom from our very nature, which is, by human definition: limited.
In the end, we will always hold the hope for unlimited time; for the life eternal. From the very beginning, “God has set eternity in the human heart” and we long to return to a place of eternity. ** Transcendence, then, is an appeal to that paramount freedom, an appeal to eternity. Like most things in this age, there has been a whittling down of communal connection towards the self as sufficient core; transcendence is by no means excluded from this trend. What continues to rise in global culture is the emphasis on fixing and fulfilling our own problems. Transcending our limits has primarily taken the course of self-transcendence: transcendence by our own means. We, individually, seek to transcend our limits. Ironically, permanent transcendence (self or otherwise) is eternally elusive. We always reach but we can never quite grasp. Thus, our greatest tasks are that of being present and content; learning to live in a embodied state with graceful acceptance of our limits. We must not grasp and claw at self-transcendence but learn to live in simple contentment. Perhaps, even, with the help of a creator who created us (and consequently, knows us intimately) we can hope to move beyond contentment to the saintly state of gratitude while being present in our embodied state.
* Merriam-Webster, “Transcendence”, www.merriam-webster.com
** Ecclesiastes 3:11
Cover photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center