Jean Croker Petke

Transcendence vs. Immanence

Transcendence vs. Immanence

I heard a Sunday morning discussion about the transcendence and immanence of God — big theological words for sure — and not ones that crop up in my daily speaking.

I’m not a theologian, but these words began my ponderings. In a nutshell, transcendence was described as God’s presence above and beyond and before all things — a universal, big world presence, beyond our finite human comprehension. In contrast, immanence was discussed as God within us, indwelling, residing in our very being. God is both-and, not either-or, both without and within.

I’ve been wondering, ever since Sunday morning, about our personal need for these same characteristics.

You know by now that I think about lots of things, carry them around with me, wake up in the night with them, and often discuss my thoughts with friends. I’m an interior person — have been for years, perhaps for my whole life. I want to know how I got to be the way I am and how I got to this point in my life. I figure out why I behave and feel the way I do. If I can get to the root of things, I can own them, and then change them if necessary. I’m all about personal awareness. I do a lot of indwelling, navel gazing, and persistent soul digging; some say I slog through the swamp. In other words, immanence, in Sunday-morning language.

But then there’s the issue of perspective. Sometimes I need to put some distance between me and my situation, to look at things from a different place. Stepping outside myself changes my view, much like being in a jet plane. Everything looks different from the stratosphere: weather, clouds, people, farms, cities, cars and trucks and buses and trains, sunrises and sunsets. When I see differently, I think differently, I listen differently, and I feel differently. Such distance can even effect my behavior when I return to the smallness of my life. Such experiences are my human interpretation of transcendence.

I often hear people, particularly women, talk about needing to regain balance in their lives. Perhaps what they really mean is that they’ve lost their perspective. Maybe they’ve gotten bogged down in the minutiae of life and lost the big picture and what they’re about. Or maybe their dreams and expectations and aspirations and wishful thinking keep them from the daily tasks and relationships clamoring for their attention.

Life’s a juggling act, to be sure. But we have to have both transcendence (seeing the big picture) and immanence (presence in the small things). Sometimes we have to step back and see where we are. We may need to get back on our path if we’ve gone astray, or reset our steps in a new direction. And . . . sometimes we need to focus on the task at hand, and see the wonders in this moment.

How’s your balance of transcendence and immanence these days?

Make time for both.

Until next Tuesday . . .







2 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Mary Patton -

    Thank you, Jean, for pondering two big concepts. It fits with a class I am taking at church on compassion. We are using Frank Rogers, “Compassion in Practice”. Our new pastor Juli Reinholz brought it from Claremont. What do you think of Claremont moving to Willamette Univ?

    • jcpetke -

      Thanks Mary. It’s great to hear from you. I didn’t realize Claremont was moving to Willamette U — I will check that out.

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