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Location: Midwest, United States

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Numinous

I learned a new word today.

I’ll confess I’m a bit of a language wonk. Each day, my homepage presents me with a sunrise gift box containing the “Word of the Day.” It pleases me no end to find a new word. Sad to say, though, the word and its definition invariably fade from memory almost as quickly as dreams fade upon wakening.

By chance, I stumbled upon a new word today. This one is different. This is a word I will never forget: numinous.

I love the way it sounds. I love the way it feels on my lips and tongue.

This is the word I had been searching for from my very first glimpse of the heavens. This is the word that had eluded me my entire life.

Numinous is a Latin term coined by the German theologian Rudolf Otto to describe that which is "wholly other"...and the human response to it is “absolute astonishment.” He believed that we humans are predisposed to detect and revere the numinous. 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. As I’ve written before, I believe all of science elicits that sense of awe.

In his book, Contact, Carl Sagan illustrates this notion through the voice of Ellie Arroway:

“I had an experience. I can’t prove it. I can’t even explain it. But everything I know as a human being, everything I am, tells me it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision of the universe that tells us undeniably … how tiny and insignificant … and how rare and precious we all are…”

If sensing the numinous is at the heart of religion, who, pray tell, are the more reverent...the "People of the Book” or the people who study the stars?

I bask in the numinous. I revel in it. And come the moment my heart tattoos its last lub dub, when all the blessings I claimed as mine tumble free from cold, insensate fingers...when this most improbable of miracles that was my existence comes, once more, to transcend all time and space...know this: there’ll be no need for tears or lamentation.

I will have gratefully, joyfully, become one with the numinous.

* * *


Blogger Sunny Delight said...

'Tis a perfect word, a word that does indeed flow from tongue to lips in a way such a word, with such a meaning should.

Your words beautifully define it, as does the quote from Ellie Arroway

Mon Mar 31, 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

what a wonderful place to be

Mon Mar 31, 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

And now I, too, have learned something new. Thank you for the word, and the words.

Mon Mar 31, 09:04:00 PM  
Blogger Cheesy said...

I can hear Carl SAYING that word!

Tue Apr 01, 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I've come back here three times now and I still don't know what to say. Your posts do that to me a lot. I come, I read, I understand (most of the time), I absorb your words, I feel your thoughts, and I have nothing to give back. I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry for always taking and never really giving anything back. I feel so ungrateful and selfish, but you just leave me speechless with your words that seem to travel through my soul.

Tue Apr 01, 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, all, for taking the time to comment (and your gracious words). And, worries. This blog is a non-profit enterprise...

Tue Apr 01, 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger rebecca said...

i'm with anna, i've done that many times write much to are a natural teacher and i absolutely love coming here to read your poetic thoughts.

all i can say is that i have been, am and will most likely continue to be "numinously" in awe of your writing....

this was a very good post...good word to know and throw to the language wonk i have at home who is in constant competition with me when it comes to language. :)

Wed Apr 02, 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Oh, goodness gracious me! You keep this up and I'll have to resize my propeller beanie.

Thank you, Rebecca, for stopping by and hyper-inflating my ego. You're no piker yourself when it comes to the written word.


Wed Apr 02, 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous theonewhodreamswhenwewillmeetagain said...

The universe constantly speaks to me... more and more each day... in its own little ways.
Does it speak to you too? Does it tell you the same thing over and over each day... in such subtle ways that could easily blow right over you if you weren't so damned aware of it all...?
Are you aware?
I love you Jonas...

Fri Apr 04, 06:11:00 AM  
Blogger shadowlands6822 said...

It is a marvelous word. It is one that I look forward to using at some point in time to describe what only the word can. The art work depicts the word beautifully...great post.

Fri Apr 04, 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Ms. Shadowlands. I'm delighted you enjoyed my post.

"Numinous" - it's quite a word, no?

Sat Apr 05, 01:36:00 AM  

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