Saintly Thoughts

Reflecting on the Numinal

Perhaps you are familiar with the Kantian division of being into the numinal and phenomenal realms?  You know, the one with the phenomenal composing the world of appearances wherein we find ourselves and the numinal being the true realm of immanent spirit lying beneath, out of our capacity to perceive?  An esoteric philosophical position to be sure, yet it derives its efficacy from the idea that the world of phenomena indelibly points towards the existence of the numinal, if the human mind wishes to take seriously the full ramifications of our lived experience.  I suppose there are a number of ways to approach such a conclusion, most of which require a deeper appreciation of subtle logic than most persons are capable most of the time.  Suffice it to say that the necessity of the numinal has something to do with the desire (dare I say necessity) of the human mind to take its powers of abstraction seriously.  

Very well then--so what?  If the numinal realm can only be approached obtusely--if at all--what difference does it make to say much about it?  Arguably within a Kantian metaphysical structure, not much, unless we found ourselves blessed with a subtlety of mind as acute as Kant's which also happens to be burdened with similar questions.  While Kant ironically espoused his philosophy in an attempt to rescue "spirit" (for perhaps we had rather call the numinal by its more familiar name) from the dustbin and to find a place within which it might continue to thrive and flourish amidst the threat of a rising empiricism, in effect his division rather forced spirit into a rarely visited closet, of interest only to the most flagrant of radicals and esoteric faculty. 

Perhaps, however, Kant got a few things wrong.  Let us allow (if we may be so generous) that there does exist a true realm of being underlying phenomenal existence.  Let us also allow that it is generally inaccessible to human persons and that the role it plays in the realm of phenomenon is not what we would generally perceive as the causal relationship of our everyday existence.  Yet, insofar as the numinal is the realm of true being and spirit, it displays an order and logic far purer than the contingencies experienced in the phenomenal world.  In fact, properly understood, it is the realm of pure order, or abstract mathematical order, if you will. 

I say all this because we have entered that time of year when much of the world's population is asked to contemplate great miracles.  I suspect that many of us perceive of a miracle as that which breaks the laws of nature, where the fantastical and inexplicable wends its way into the fabric of the usual and ordered and ordinary.  Yet perhaps this is the wrong way to think about things, if we are going to think about them at all.  Using the Kantian division of being as a starting place, the realm of the phenomenal within which we perceive our existence is on a lesser plane than the numinal.  For while the numinal is generally inaccessible to the human mind, it yet reflects a truer image of being than does the world of experience.  Thus might not a miracle, correctly understood, be not a suspension of the laws of being itself, but rather reflects an entry of the "laws" (if we may call them that) of the numinal realm temporarily and unusually thrust upon the everyday realm of experience?   This would make the miraculous no less miraculous, but does pose that rather than being a suspension of law for the sake of some other (presumably) higher end, it rather is an imposition of true Law (for the numinal governs the phenomenal) upon that which is normally governed by base--though ordered--contingency.  Rather than an exception to the rules, the miraculous is rather the imposition of the true Rules which appear odd in the phenomenal realm only because it is so far cut off from the true nature of things as appears in the numinal realm. 

As with much metaphysics, this distinction may seem like one which yields little of use.  "So what if the miraculous represents the true nature of things as defined by the numinal," one might say (assuming they even except the possibility of the distinction)?  "The phenomenal is what is normal to me and all that I know, and so regardless the miraculous is an unusual imposition regardless of whether it is perceived of a suspension of the rules or an imposition of a higher rule."  "Ah," I might respond, "but you see if we perceive the miraculous as a suspension of the rules then a miracle is an un-ordered action of will, which means that will is the ascendant quality of being.  If this is the case, than the nature of being is in flux and not to be counted on.  If, however, the miraculous is an intervention of a higher logic, rather than being an actualization of will it is rather the re-imposition of Order upon a disordered cosmos.  I would suggest that these two approaches yield a far different image of the nature of Being.  For if Being is in flux, what might Being not do?