Signals of Transcendence, Os Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2023.
Summary: The stories of people who have experienced signs or promptings that there is more to life awakening them to pursue the unseen realities beyond the signal.
Peter Berger has described the experience of a sense that there is “something more” with the phrase “signals of transcendence.” In Irish parlance, it is the sense that the barrier between the seen and unseen is barely there. This is all the more significant in the “world without windows” we modern versions of Plato’s cavedwellers inhabit. Os Guinness contends that such signals still come to us. Will we heed, and then search for the transcendent source beyond the signal.
The signals vary for each of us. Guinness tells the stories of ten individuals who, in different ways encountered such signals. For Malcolm Muggeridge, swimming from shore to end his life, one final glance back at the shore lights filed him with so mich hope he needed to find its source, a search of many years. For Peter Berger, the mother’s assurance that “all will be well” in a world where that cannot truly be promised signals a deeper reality where this is so.
For Phillip Hallie, driven to despair with the horrors of the Holocaust, the unworldly goodness of Le Chambon’s people who rescued 5000 Jewish children, rescued him as well. For Chesterton, consumed with the evil in the world, the sight of a beautiful dandelion set off a “thin thread of thanks” and a search for a worldview that could explain a world of brokenness and beauty, which he found eventually in Christianity.
The signals are different for each of us, contends Guinness. For fashion model Windsor Elliott, it was the sense of emptiness at a glamourous gathering that began the quest for something more. For C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, it was glimpses of joyful longing that caught his attention.
Guinness urges our readiness to hear the call and reiterates in each chapter, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” Yet his last story is that of Kenneth Clark, who experienced “the finger of God” in a church in San Lorenzo yet did not heed the signal until on his deathbed when he was received into the church, as attested by those with him. It’s never too late in this life.
He includes his own grandfather’s story, caught up in the Boxer Rebellion, narrowly escaping alive. He writes with a sense of the preciousness and significance of our lives. While he focuses on the signals of the something more for which we are made, he urges the quest for that something, elaborated more fully in his previous book, The Great Quest.
This is a wonderful book for someone who, in Frederick Buechner’s words is “listening to one’s life” and longing for more. Far from being distracted or thinking oneself crazy, Guinness assures us that the signals are worth heeding and the quest pursuing. He who seeks, finds.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.