sunset“I desire something I vaguely recall; I long for something in my future that somehow I remember.”— Cindy Crosby

Have you ever found yourself longing for something undefinable? Some spiritual or emotional experience you sense is out there, but you can’t necessarily describe? I have; and I think almost all of us do. To me it’s Transcendence.

In her fascinating book on the spiritual dimensions of creation and nature, By Willoway Brook, author Cindy Crosby describes her insights gleaned from countless hikes in a nature preserve, called the Morton Arboretum, near her home in the western suburbs of Chicago. (Coincidentally, it’s the same place I proposed to my then-girlfriend and my now-wife back in 1975.)

While watching and researching Monarch butterflies she discovered that every fall millions of Monarchs leave their natural habitat in the eastern parts of North America, pass through the Midwest, and arrive “home”— a remote fifty acres at 10,000 feet altitude in a mountain range in Mexico. None of them have ever been there before, but something in their DNA compels them to return “home.”

Crosby points out that Monarchs aren’t the only species that demonstrates the same familiarity with, or memory of, a place they have never been to:

  • Gray whales migrate 7,000 miles up the Pacific coast from Baja California to the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic
  • Eels descend east coast streams they’ve never been in to spawn and then die
  • Chinook salmon climb from the Pacific a thousand miles up the Snake River to breed
  • Each September some 70,000 Bar-tailed godwits fly 7,700 miles, non-stop over 6-8 days, from Alaska to New Zealand, then return the following March.

We humans have our own “migrations” to experience something out of the ordinary:

  • Each summer nearly 1,000 athletes compete in a 26 mile marathon up to the summit of 14,110 foot Pikes Peak in Colorado, and then back down.
  • This August and September over 65,000 people will attend the Burning Man event in northern Nevada to experience “community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance.” (Wikipedia)
  • Every able-bodied Muslim has a religious duty of pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This year more than 2 million will make this Hajj.
  • An estimated 3 million Christian men attended the Promise Keepers’ Stand in the Gap event in Washington, DC in 1997.
  • 5 men have attended all 48 Super Bowls since the first championship in 1967.

Somewhere deep inside, we humans have a longing for the spectacular, the spiritual, the ecstatic, the breath-taking, or the transformational. Like the extraordinary migrations of some of the animal kingdom, our pilgrimages reveal a pull to return to a familiar place we’ve never been to before. They reveal a longing for a new place that feels like home.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Do you experience that? I’ll bet you do. It’s what we are looking for on a hike through a forest of redwood trees. It’s the joy we experience at the sound of an orchestra majestically playing a moving piece of music in perfect unison. It’s the reason tears stream down our cheeks when we watch a son, daughter or friend participate in a sporting accomplishment that we know took enormous discipline and courage. It’s why dozens of anonymous beach hikers stand in silence as the sun slowly sets on a gulf coast Florida beach, then spontaneously cheer together when it disappears from view. It’s why we stand in awe in a community of fellow faith travelers in worship of God.

It’s why G.K. Chesterton was enormously insightful in writing, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” On the surface a man’s (or a woman’s) pursuit of promiscuity or pornography just looks like sex. Beneath the surface it’s a spiritual longing for intimacy, joy, and exhilaration.

It’s also why 12 million Americans admitted to using prescription pain killers for non-medical purposes in 2010; and heroin use doubled between 2007-2012 to over 700,000 users. They are looking for relief.

To me all of these are a longing for Transcendence— a glimpse behind the veil of our limited, finite, disappointingly painful journey on earth. Our taste for something beyond the ordinary and broken is a clue that we have a deep spiritual appetite inside.

We “remember” faint recollections of unbridled joy, enormous scope, a reality beyond our imagination, a God who is vastly larger than our shallow ability to describe him with human terms.

Crosby writes, “Give me a God beyond my imagining. Not a God that I completely understand and can explain, but a God whose depths cannot be fathomed.” I think the truth is we Christians usually want a God that obeys our expectations. We want a God that follows the rules of our interpretation of Scripture. We want Systematic Theology; explainable God.

I confess I am often exceedingly frustrated by God’s silence. I am bewildered by what He allows, and by what He doesn’t do, in the world. There are times I’m moved to tears by the agony of a grieving creation; mostly by the bewildering suffering of countless millions He says He loves. The older I get, the more mysterious He is to me, and the less I think I know who He really is.

I want to become more willing to accept that aspect of God. The mysterious, the unexplainable, the unfathomable, the Transcendent One. There are times that I long for answers and relief, but I increasingly understand I may not get either until that Day when the veil is pulled away. And then it will all come together. Some mysteries will be resolved. Some questions will no longer make sense. I think most of them won’t even matter any more. And, finally, we will know Transcendence.

Until then, I (and I’ll bet you, too) will continue to pursue and relish those places, friendships and experiences that bring a smile, a laugh, a tear, a hug or chills. They feel like memories of a place we’ve never been to before, but somehow feels like home.

Where is it that you go that feels Transcendent? Like a home you’ve never been to before?