"Numinous", according to the third definition in Webster's eleventh edition
, means appealing to the higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense or spiritual. In the Oxford English dictionary the second definition says, "In extended use: giving rise to a sense of the spiritually transcendent; (esp. of things in art or the natural world) evoking a heightened sense of the mystical or sublime; awe-inspiring." Even the German theologian Rudolf Otto's described it as "The numinous is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans
that leads in different cases to belief in deities
, the supernatural
, the sacred, the holy, and the transcendent". Even so, this experience is not exclusive to the religious because even Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein experienced the numinous in a purely secular manner when they described the awe and wonder of the universe. All these things can evoke feelings of transcendence; that which is beyond comprehension or even beyond words.
As a child, I would experience these feelings when I lay on the prickly green grass looking up at the enchanting blue summer sky as I felt the warm embracing sun on face. The infinite possibilities of going to the moon and beyond was an awesome thought as I dreamed of being with Captain Kirk, Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and all the other Star Trek characters. The captivating night sky was no different as I watched the stars gracefully twinkling like candles in the sky and the night air soothingly cooled my skin. What was even more numinous was seeing the splendorous Venus elegantly flashing like a huge star in the December dark sky and as I grew older, I understood what Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein were talking about as they spoke with majestic awe and wonder about the cosmic universe. Like Gene Roddenberry, they stimulated excitement of what the future could be like one day. None of them put these feelings into precise words though, except Einstein was correct when he said it is not a personal god yet it is subtle, not malicious. This subtleness one can see in the setting and rising sun with its various hues of orange and red or in the dreaming haze of a child overwhelmed with excitement on Christmas morning.
Yet it is more than that because I also had this inner stimuli during my youth as I related to my pets, which were not only common ones, but also uncommon too. If I were hurt, my cat would cuddle up on my lap and purr to me in sympathy. As I lovingly cradled her in my arms, I would look into her compassionate yellow-green eyes and feel a transcendent calmness. Her soft fur on a bad day would comfort me as she snuggled her head against me with affection. I felt this same bond with the world when I looked into my pet cow's large brown orbs or experienced every movement my pony made as I rode him bareback through the field of lush green grass and multi-coloured wild flowers with a gentle breeze flowing through my hair and caressing my face. Any sound they made vibrated within them as it pulsed against my body when I hugged them and felt an endearing oneness with them and nature. It was almost as though I had a special communication of unspoken words with my pets, even though they were not human.
However, these experiences were nothing in comparison to having my first child. I still remember the day he was born. After he entered the world, the nurse cleaned his precious body and tenderly handed him to me. As I held him in my arms and we gazed into each other's eyes I had the strongest transcending numinous experience I had ever felt in my life. It was beyond words, beyond comprehension, beyond anything I ever encountered before within nature. It was a paradox in time, space, and nature as mother and son lovingly gazed upon each other for the first time as two strangers who knew and recognized each other.
This feeling is something difficult to express or put into words, but for me, this is a spiritual experience much like a benevolent wind. It is part of nature with no form or substance of any sort, yet very real and almost tangible. Few people seem to understand this natural description and even they could not put any words to it, except one: God. The closest text that expresses this concept is in the Gospel of Thomas, saying 3, Lambdin translation, which says,
Jesus said, "If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside of you."
The birds, especially on a spring morning, joyfully sing that warmer days are approaching and inspire me to appreciate the vivid colours of spring as the adoring bright sun shines down on blooming flowers and trees, but they themselves are not the numinous passion even though they are awe-inspiring. The roaring waves hitting the shore are wondrous too, but they alone are not it either. It is within me, in everything around me, moving through nature like the wind, and is the very essence of everything found in nature. These overwhelming experiences "are not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34 NKJV), because such spiritual events are heaven incarnate. It is just as the saying, "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me" (Thomas, saying 77). The world with all its splendour, even as a child, is a dreamy paradise.
However, these are just feelings of the most awesome power from the universe, which few seem to understand, but as an adult, I stumbled onto yet another man who attempted to put into words what I could not. Very few people comprehended this non-metaphysical god concept that is part of nature and our own existence, yet Bishop Spong seems to understand when he uses the word ‘ruach' and ‘wind' to describe his concept of God. Though I know Spong personally, I still read his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and on page 60, he said,
"It is important to note that at its origin ruach was an impersonal life force, an experienced "what", not a "who". The ruach or wind of God was not external. It rather emerged from within the world and was understood as its very ground, its life-giving reality." [Sic]
Now here was a man who just put into words with all its complexities what I felt within myself all my life and he even called it an impersonal god. It is very much like the wind and felt as love, which can refresh and renew the inner spirit each time it is experienced. Even Spong says he does not describe this god, but rather he experiences it by loving wastefully and Don Cupitt, using non-realism terminology, states love is God and also calls it "solar love", in his short essay called All You Really Need is Love, which continuously pours itself out and gives itself away freely. This numinous transcendence is an experience one sees and feels within nature in the form of love between friends and family, a faint breeze, and the gentle vocalizations of a devoted pet.
Therefore, the definition of numinous is actually beyond words, because it is an experience of senses, which triggers abstract emotions beyond comprehension within a person and exceeds the limits of ordinary experience and knowledge. This makes it almost impossible to conceptualize, yet we can describe what triggers these feelings of transcendence in the form of nature and even through the loving and compassionate interactions with other human beings.