I’ve always been a curious fellow, which, as a child, landed me in hot water on more than one occasion, especially with the “all seeing eye” of mother. I wanted to see how things worked and especially what was inside drawers and boxes. Locked boxes were a particular fascination. I suppose if Pandora’s Box were real, I would have been the one to let loose the havoc. Locked boxes are also a metaphor for mysteries, mysteries we hope will change our lives for the better. And we go to great lengths sometimes to find the key that fits the lock.
The ultimate locked box mystery for me has always been the transcendent, be it an ultimate love interest, God, the natural world around me, or the universe light-years away. Transcendence is our drive toward wholeness and connection. It motivates me to move beyond my limitations of time and space, beyond the confines of my body and mind, to delve into new dimensions. In this way I’ve sought to liberate my soul and find radical freedom.
For many of us the first taste of ultimate transcendence is the experience of falling in love and seeking a soul mate. For others it’s the promise of eternal life after death. Transcendence may also be as prosaic as finding freedom from annoying, unconscious habits of thoughts or actions. And who among us has not dreamed of the possibilities that could unfold if we were to tap into a financial windfall; the transcendence of winning the lottery?
It is built into our human fiber to seek transcendence even if we don’t think of ourselves as particularly spiritual. We sense that there’s something more beyond us that we can know and experience. Anyone who has enjoyed music, food, art, friendship, vacations or sex knows what at least temporary reliefs experiences of transcendence can be. They transform mundane moments into extraordinary delights. They invite us to become more of who we truly are.
We witness transcendence being played out at political rallies, public demonstrations, and sports events—people gathering together to affirm that collectively they are more powerful than as individuals. Think of the grand transcendent show Apple executives put on every time they introduce a new or upgraded product. We have an endless hunger for being lifted out of our limited lives.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam have played out their transcendent experiences on the world stage for over five millennia. In the case Roman Catholicism transcendence is often defined by clear parameters of belief and morals. It teaches that Jesus established portals of transcendence called sacraments so that the ordinary person could gain access to the world of God through tangible signs.
Yet it’s always been dangerous to color outside the lines of Catholic definitions of faith, to move independently toward that locked box. Despite Jesus’ radical teachings of inclusion and love, the gate keepers of religion are too ready to judge and push aside those who do not adhere to the accepted portals for transcendence. But behind the gate keepers remains the locked box ready to be opened by anyone with the key, and like Pandora’s it’s a box that once opened, can never again be closed. I wonder if this is what the new Pope Francis is counting on.
Much will change if the rank and file of organized religion finds the key to the locked box of transcendence. What will that mean? It’s fodder for my next blog post. Stay tuned!
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Original art copyrighted by Michael Parise