Yesterday I was at a memorial service for a young man named Bo Jacobson who went to school with my oldest son, Joseph. He died a couple of weeks ago in a tragic accident while snorkeling in Fiji. I remember Bo as a very lively and extroverted fellow, who genuinely loved people. During the memorial service a number of individuals went up to the podium to eulogize Bo, but one person in particular described Bo in a way that I have never heard anyone described before. It was his former college football coach at Puget Sound University and he described Bo as a “transcendent” person. He defined this term as, someone who selflessly rises above himself and does what is best for others in the community. Bo looked out for the best interest of the football team and not just himself. The testimonies about Bo went on for almost three hours, but that uniquely worded description of Bo as “transcendent” stood out to me among all the complimentary eulogies given about him. I so much like the term that I plan on using it in the future as a new way to think about selflessness. It is the perfect word.
In my Christian tradition “Transcendence” is a word reserved for God. God's Transcendence refers to his “otherness”, his "holiness", his standing “above” and “outside” all that he has created. No mortal being can even approximate this kind of transcendence. However, I think it is the perfect word when referring to a person who rises above himself to become conscious of a greater purpose than himself. Jesus was certainly the epitome of this kind of transcendence. The Apostle Paul said that Jesus stepped outside of his divine privileges and status in order to identify with us and sacrifice himself for us. He considered the accomplishment of our redemption a goal more important than exulting in his own divine position.
One of the ways we playfully poke fun at babies is to say that the “world revolves around them.” We expect babies to behave as though everyone around them exists to serve their interests. It’s part of their survival mechanism to be needy. But, when adults act like this we react with either disgust or pity for them. We expect adults to grow out of that immaturity and become aware of the needs of others around them. “Transcendence” is a word referring to the epitome of maturity. The mature person sees that there is interconnectedness between them and those around them. They understand that they cannot be truly happy, or fulfilled, or do their best to accomplish their life calling unless they transcend themselves and work for the interests of others, a purpose greater than themselves, and the common good. Abraham Maslow observed that it is innately human to crave fulfillment. However, isn't it ironic that to be fulfilled we cannot focus on our desire to satisfy it, but instead we come by fulfillment as a byproduct of our transcendence. This is one of those spiritual laws that can be tried and proven through experience. Don't ask, but observe anyone who is truly happy and fulfilled in life. You will see that for them fulfillment does not come from their money, power, influence, health, or satisfaction of sensual pleasures, but through their devotion to the well being of others and ideals greater than their own private desires. For me, Bo Jacobson's legacy will live on in one word, "transcendence".