Signals of Transcendence


I was given an early copy of Os Guinness' new book, Signals of Transcendence, which comes out in March. I was instantly hooked. And yes, he is related to the beer that shares his name. Os is the great-great-great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer.

Each chapter follows the journey of someone throughout history and illuminates the turning point (Guinness refers to this as a 'signal') that led them to faith in Jesus. Some of the names he explores include W. H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Leo Tolstoy.

Not only do you feel like you get a perspective of each of these fascinating lives, but you also feel like you are reading dozens of books at once as the author seamlessly weaves together his perspective with that of others. Between the stories and quotes this was such an enjoyable and satisfying read.

Guinness gets his title phrase from the social scientist Peter Berger. According to Berger, signals of transcendence are "arresting and intriguing experiences that both capture our attention and call for further explanation." In this regard, much of this book reminded me of another stellar book I recently read called Hunting Magic Eels

We may be quick to dismiss these moments. Guinness acknowledges that "Talk of transcendence smacks of drugs, madness, or mysticism. But such experiences are undeniable, and they are more common than many might think." I agree.

Too many modern people live as if society is indebted to them, and they are owed a life -when the fact is that our existence itself is a wonder, and we should ask to whom or to what we owe the response that our lives should be.

The concept of signals of transcendence plays off a phrase you might be more familiar with called 'thin places.' Guinness connects the two ideas.

The Irish have a term, thin places, which they use to describe places or experiences where the membrane between the seen and the unseen, the natural and the supernatural, is barely there and easily penetrated. Heaven and earth are only a few feet apart, the Celts say, but in thin places they are even closer. Experiencing a signal of transcendence is like having a knife thrust through the membrane in thin places.

Guinness argues—and I would agree—that many people experience these types of moments but then bury them and move on for fear of what they might lead to.

The question is what we do with them... Are we too shy, too embarrassed to even consider them as signals, to share our experiences with others, and to follow the thrusting logic of their questions, wherever they lead and whatever the cost? Are we afraid of reaching conclusions that might be dismissed as odd, deluded, or out of line with fashionable opinion in our day? In the world of the blind, the one- eyed person always runs the risk of being scoffed at as an idiot.

What I love most of all is that the book isn't merely a study of how God reached out to other people previously. It's an invitation to boldly analyze our own experiences to see where God may be reaching out to us.

Each signal of transcendence sounds out its own special call. No signal is a signal for everyone to hear, so one person's signal is another's person's silence. Be ready, then, for the call that comes to you in your own life. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.

And once we do recognize a signal, then the real work begins. It's not enough to notice God reaching out. We must respond to the invitation.

The flash of insight must be followed by the hard work of thinking through what it means and following the logic of its thrust with close attention. In other words, the perspiration that follows the signal is as important to the search as the inspiration.

The book officially comes out on March 7th but you can preorder a copy here.

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