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.
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