Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 1

Through the Trees by DanWhile reading this, you are probably sitting in a room. Around you are most likely walls and perhaps other people behind some of those walls. If you could see through the walls surrounding you, a vision of more walls would likely be had if you are in a city, and trees and earth if you are in the country.

Were you to somehow float above everything with the vision of an eagle, your position would allow you insight on more things and people. Your knowledge of your surroundings would no longer be contained to the four walls about you.

Many of us have had such “transcendent” moments where it seems we tap into something higher than ourselves. Perhaps this has come during prayer or divine services; frequently this is experienced in nature. I had an atheist friend who confessed to having several of these moments while hiking the Appalachian Trail.

For those of us who allow inner quiet and stillness, these moments can serve as “proof” that there is a spiritual realm and something greater than the material world around us. The experiences often serve as our best defense against the spirit-numbing claim of this world: “All you see around you is all that there is” – sometimes this is whispered, other times shouted.

empty_perspective_by_jazbagzIt is as if the world is telling us, “This room that you are sitting in is all that exists. Establish your happiness here. There are no other rooms; there is nothing outside of these walls. And even if there were more, none of that matters as much as the problems that you are facing in this room or the treasures to which you are attached here.”


The saints did not listen to the world’s message. They rose above all with keen vision. We see numerous examples of this in the book of Acts, including the incident in which the Apostle Philip, when after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, was carried away by the Spirit to another place. There are countless examples from the lives of the saints being carried to and from places by the Holy Spirit. It is as if their bodies were not less material, but something beyond material. As Elder Ambrose of Optina stated regarding one such anonymous pilgrim, “Well, you understand, he is a man of elevated life, his flesh is subtle.”

Somewhat recent saints who lived such elevated lives include the above mentioned Elder Ambrose, Elder Pophyrios, and Archbishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Not only would they suddenly appear in places geographically distant from where they were moments ago, but they would also know what is in the heart and soul of every person.


Flame and Horsehead NebulasSt Theophan the Recluse taught that the saints, especially those who have departed, and all of the angelic hosts look upon us from an elevated position of love and discernment. As one Akathist states, they “shine like stars in the firmament of the Church.”

If someone is pure of heart, then their soul has a glow and shimmer to it. The purer one’s heart, the brighter they shine. When the angels and saints look down upon a busy street, they see a multitude of people: some are shining, others are very dark. Accordingly, the saints and angels either grieve or rejoice over us. This concept is not some lofty notion of piety, but a living reality.

The soul that shines is illuminated from within by the Holy Spirit. It is the light of God shining through the person. Most of us are blind to this light because our nous is not clean, but it is evident to heavenly beings. Like the eyes that behold the material world around us, the nous is the spiritual organ within a human being that can perceive the spiritual world.

I think moments of transcendence are often brief flashes of spiritual light that illuminate us. Like a dream that forever slips through the finger tips of our waking consciousness, so these moments pass through the rational mind and into the heart. Words are inadequate to explain, so we are left with irrational arguments like “I just know this to be true.”

May we preserve a child-like simplicity that keeps the nous free and clear to spiritual life. May we be content with experiencing God in simple, inexplicable ways without worrying about how silly it may sound to others. May we continually meditate on God’s love and goodness, with gratitude that fills us with joy and light. And may we continue to partake in the Mysteries of the Church, which God has given us as material means to obtain spiritual grace.


Are all transcendent moments and spiritual experiences a gift from God? Let’s tackle that question in the upcoming Part 2.

Photos 1&3: by Dan M
Photo 2:

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