Saturday, 16 September 2017

The "Transmundane"

A term I often use when discussing spiritual life is “transmundane”, or “the transmundane”. This isn't a word in common currency, so even looking up its definition in a dictionary doesn't necessarily reflect how it is used – especially by me. So I thought it was perhaps time for me to attempt an explanation.
Online dictionaries tend to give a definition along the lines of “beyond the physical world”, or “existing beyond the world”. This is a simple etymological explanation, as one of the meanings of “mundane” – a technical one, rather than the vernacular usage – is “of relation to this physical world, as opposed to a heavenly or spiritual one”. “Trans-” as a prefix, of course, means “beyond”. As an aside, it is very much a development of this meaning, via some specific usages, that leads to the usage in words such as “transgender”, via a sense meaning “across”, but the root meaning is “beyond”. This does not mean that “transgender” means “beyond gender”, and I generally frown on arguments from etymology when determining the meaning of words. Linguistically, I'm very much a descriptivist.
The sense of mundane I refer to, however, when I speak of the transmundane, is still somewhat in line with the definition above. To me, “the mundane”, in a religious sense, is that which is purely physical, that which we can reach out and touch, understand with the five conventional senses, handle with our conscious, analytical mind. The transmundane is anything that goes beyond that. Thus, if I were to be considering the possibility of parapsychic abilities, or of magic, that would be transmundane. The question of life after death is a matter of the transmundane. Likewise, unless one considers ministry to actually be the result of conscious pondering and entirely within the realm of our analytical thought process, ministry is a matter of the transmundane.
I've once been asked why I do not use the term “supernatural”. There are several reasons. One is similar to the reasons not to use the term “atheist”, as discussed elsewhere on this blog; “supernatural” carries connotations that are not appropriate for everything I encompass within the transmundane. I consider that, while the transmundane is beyond our rational understanding, it is not necessarily anything fundamentally strange or beyond. Those transmundane occurrences that I accept, I think might be a matter of unconscious operation of our minds, or perhaps even explicable by reasonably normal physics if we had the means to measure them.
So, the mundane is our everyday, worldly experience, those things that are shared experiences of everyone. The transmundane is that which is beyond the mundane – spiritual experiences, ministry, visions, seemingly inexplicable phenomena – these are what I mean when I say “transmundane”.
Of course, as Quakers, we seek to bring the whole of our lives under the ordering of the Spirit. To be a Quaker, to me, is to actively pursue the goal of bridging the transmundane and the mundane. To be aware of the movement of that which some call God in the smallest things in our life, and to apply the promptings of truth and love to all areas of our lives.
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