Dedicated to Research and Reflection in Formative Spirituality




About Us Programs Staff Links Contact Us


Pre-Transcendent and Transcendent Presence (Part One)

March 19, 2012

Although we haven’t distinguished – up to this point in our reflections on presence – between transcendent and pre-transcendent levels of human presence, it may be useful to do.  As “embodied spirit” our presence is manifested materially (physically) as well as in distinctively human capacities, such as thinking, imagining, and self-transcendence (we “go beyond” ourselves in fundamental ways).  That our spiritual life is embodied means that it does not function independently of the reality that we are “in the world” with bodies.  Wendell Berry offers a reflection on presence and placement in the world in The Hidden Wound.

In the spring of 1964 I turned back on the direction I had been going.  I returned to Kentucky, and within a year bought and moved into a little farm in my native part of the state. . . . What I had done caused my mind to be thrown back forcibly upon its sources:  my home countryside, my own people and history.  And for the first time I felt my nakedness.  I realized that the culture I needed was not to be found by visiting museums and libraries and auditoriums.  It occurred to me that there was another measure for my life than the amount or even the quality of the writing I did; a man, I thought, must be judged by how willingly and meaningfully he can be present where he is, by how fully he can make himself at home in his part of the world.  I began to want desperately to learn to belong to my place.  The test, it seemed to me, would be how content I could become to remain in it, how independent I could be, there, of other places.

     Berry evokes our worldedness; in particular he lays claim to the essential belonging that relates us to our immediate  world.  The reality of such belonging is in keeping with Adrian van Kaam’s insight that socio-historical situatedness is a constitutive part of our foundational life-form.  We may depart from the place – “move on” as we say – but there is a way in which the location that formed us will never leave us.  Our embeddedness in the world is a forming dynamic; place is an indispensable part of our formation, part of the “fundament” of who we are.  This is true also of the other two levels of our pre-transcendent personhood:  Our vital bio-physical embodiment, including emotions and temperament, are givens.  This vital substrate wasn’t chosen by us, nor is it completely changeable; but we can work with it, in the projects of consonant self-formation.  On the functional level of ambitions and capacities, we have more choice.  Yet the functional ego strives to be central and in control rather than submissive to a higher calling.  Spiritual directives calling for self-transcendence may be perceived as threats to autonomy, to one’s ambitions for power, possession, pleasure, etc.  The ego may be mellowed but never eradicated.

     We are present, then, in and to a physical situation (place); as a bio-physical organism; and with focused concerns (ego).  Humans are characterized by their ability to incorporate these dimensions creatively in their lives and in some measure to “go beyond.”  The distinctively human dimension at the heart of our life is a longing for a spiritual orientation to our life.  This orientation is marked by three inter-related features:

  • Transcendence-ability:  the ability aspiration to “go beyond” – to transcend the pre-transcendent “determinations” of our embodiment;

  • Direction-ability: the ability/quest to find and follow a uniquely-inspired life direction; and

  • Incarnation-ability: the ability – through the aid of formative memory, imagination and anticipation –  to give form to the directives we receive for embodiment of a spiritually fulfilling life (as distinct from mere functional ambitions and goals).

Copyright © 2007 [Resources in Spiritual Formation].

All rights reserved.

Last updated: 11/25/10.