Two of my favorite words are “ineffable” and “numinous.” I didn’t know what they meant until last year. I had to look them up. My writing teacher used ineffable often. It means “incapable of being expressed in words.” I’m not sure where I got numinous from, but it means “filled with a sense of the presence of divinity.” I’ve had a few experiences that fit these definitions and stayed with me over the years.
In 1980, I was newly divorced and driving home from a friend’s house. My young son was with his dad for the weekend. At a stop light, I had this thought: “I’m all alone.” In an instant, another voice in my head said, “I’m here.” Now who was that? God? My Higher Self? My guardian angel? The collective unconscious? I don’t know, and I really don’t need to know. I didn’t need to know that night, either. It was ineffable.
When my father was dying in January, 1999, I saw a groundhog. It was late and I couldn’t sleep. Sometime in the wee hours, I roamed the little house where I grew up, looking out the windows into the snowy yard. The moonlight on the snow was what I’d now call numinous. Its beauty mesmerized me. And into that cold, silent scene came a little fat rodent all puffy, scuttling across my old backyard. It stayed there a long time, as if it was there just for me, as if it knew I was watching on this profoundly meaningful night. My mind eased, I went back to sleep.
On another cold winter night, more recently, I hurried down a crowded sidewalk in Manhattan toward Penn Station, my husband Steve beside me. I felt scared and anxious, almost panicky, which is not unusual for me in that kind of situation as I try to figure out who all these people are and where they’re going. I just can’t. I felt like a speck in a windstorm, a little fish in a big wide stream. Buffeted by people, and the wind, and tired. Wishing I was home, knowing it would be a couple of hours. And suddenly came this thought: “I’m always home.” Where did that come from? I do believe it’s true, that I’m always home, but I can’t explain it to you. I just know it eased my fear and calmed my soul.
I’m always home. I sometimes feel I am watched over or cared for by some higher power. I call it The Benevolent Force.
When I write, I sometimes feel as if the writing is coming “through” me from somewhere else. People have called this The Zone or Writing in Flow. I wish it would happen more often.
The philosopher Steve McIntosh, in his book The Presence of the Infinite, calls transcendence “a glimpse of something more complete or perfect” than our normal awareness. He believes “we are capable of experiencing spirit more fully and completely as we evolve, that consciousness is constantly evolving and that these glimpses of the transcendent are a kind of future echo, a foretaste of our destiny as ascendant pilgrims in time.”
I love that idea, that we are pilgrims on a journey through time. I love that we humans try so hard to find our places on that long road. And I love that you and I are ineffable, numinous pieces of some great mystery we will never fully understand. And most of all, I love that we are trying to figure it out together.
Linda C. Wisniewski lives with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA where she volunteers at the historic home of author Pearl S. Buck. Linda has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sun, gravel, The Sunlight Press, and other venues both print and online. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press.
Psst, you'll also like this one: The Numinous Quality of Portraiture
Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash
Numinous, Mother of Ineffable.
The Word became Flesh.
Thanks for your voice.
Your experiences of spiritual support echo some of my own through the years. They are what make me believe there is “something out there”, though I still don’t know what it is. I am happy that you have felt held in times of stress and anxiety. I wish to feel this more frequently. Guess I had better get back to opening that door further through meditation once again, eh?
Very good, Jeanne and Jerry! Using the new words (to me) in a sentence! Thanks for your kind comments here. It means a lot, as you know, for a writer to feel “heard.”
Thanks for these lovely observations Linda. Your words bring back many memories. We were both in that very first writing group circa 2002 in Bucks County when I first realized how urgently I needed to find my words. Now looking back on that quest across the years, recognizing all the words that have flowed down that river… Perhaps as our words flow together in our shared search for meaning they become part of that great ineffable expression of the numinous, which is probably what we’ve been searching for all along.
This touched me and made me feel held in an ineffable way, even if for a tiny numinous moment.
Thanks, Linda! I enjoy your well-written blog, http://www.lindahoye.com, so your comment here is doubly welcome.
Simply beautiful, Linda.
Thank you, Nancy! I"m so glad my words touched you in this way.
I learned two new words while reading this beautiful, expressive blog. It gave me a genuine sense of peace and human connection.
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May 27, 2019
Tracy, I do think meditation, or any way to slow down and listen, is a key to the “numinous.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.