by Ken Rolheiser
Human Transcendence and Self-actualization

Cleaning up my office recently I came across some notes I made listening to Sandra Schneider’s discussion of human transcendence. It ran into hours, and I remember noting that it was good that the speaker had a glass of water.

I was struck by a comment I penned while listening to her long explanation: “dry stuff, but growing in substance until it was enough to choke a horse”. A realization became clear as I listened. We take a spiritual reality with us, from a Divine origin, a reality that becomes understanding and living. Ultimately it transforms us.

I crossed swords with an atheist recently who challenged me with a question: how can good people manage to live virtuous lives when they have no knowledge of God and faith? And how is it that this goodness is passed down to future generations?

Andrezej K. Jastrzebski gives us an answer in “Recent Developments in Understanding Spirituality as Exemplified by the Concept of Self-Transcendence”. The notion of spirituality has undergone changes using the concept of self-transcendence.

“In the modern, ‘soft versions’ of spirituality,” Jastrzebski says, “relating to a transcendent reality is not necessary; it is sometimes even considered politically incorrect. And yet the human capacity to self-transcend, generally meaning a conscious experience of going beyond oneself toward what one perceives as something of ultimate value, seems to be one of the major characteristics of the human being.”

In other words, we seem to have a natural inclination to spirituality, though many deny aspects of religion like going to church. It may not be popular to be religious, but most will admit to it. Further, as the next paragraph will suggest, we are called to pass this spirituality on to others.

We can say, further, that the human spirit is the underlying dynamism of human self-transcendence, which intentionally directs itself naturally to what can be known and loved. This spirit is not designed to be enclosed in itself, but to go out into the world and to reach out to other persons, Jastrzebski says.

The Christian driven by the Holy Spirit and nourished by the bread of life has formidable power when it comes to evangelisation – spreading the Good News to others. How does this going out to others work in self-transcendence?

Sandra Schneider defines spirituality as “the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”

In Schneider’s spiritual journey we move to a deeper interior prayer life, from there to a communal experience of the Holy Spirit in a contained setting, like a church. This leads to an increase in everyday life of faith and service.

This service moves “concentrically [her word] outward in depth of experience of spirituality”. We can then move from a chosen group of pious believers to impact a broader world.

The reward for all this? “People who see themselves relating to something greater than the self often feel happier and have a deeper sense of purpose in their lives” (Andrezej K. Jastrzebski).

And more profoundly, “Thanks to the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit, the human person can progressively assimilate the blessed life of God and become God-like, which is also God’s desire for the whole humanity,” (Jastrzebski).

Eastern Christianity emphasizes this transforming process or deification as a new state of the human person transformed by the Holy Spirit. This process leads the human person to come as close as possible to illustrating the likeness to God in their lives.

(586 words)