Mary Strachan Scriver

Aug 23, 2020

5 min read

Perceiving the Sacred

In the background, off-posts, I’m still working on the ideas about intense moments we often interpret as “religious.” The working title of the accumulation is “Can you have an epiphany in an elevator?” The outline so far looks like below:

Line of thought: This opens up a theory of human beings as an emergence from the interaction of animal and environment when explored in mutation/evolution. Fitting one’s culture is as powerful as fitting one’s ecology, which may have determined the culture. The Sacred is not confined to the human.

I propose that the experience of extraordinary moments is basically located in the physical but also psychic action of human functioning, largely subconscious which is why so often it is unexpected. Though it is out of our awareness, it can be managed to some degree. One way is through creating liminal time/space in planned experiences, possibly liturgy.

Some of the pieces below have already been addressed in this blog. Others remain to be composed.


a1. What is the DNA code for “holy”

a2. Sources for this theory

a3. Introduction

a4. What is the question?

a5. Not a new religion


b1. Life crisis for the world

b2. The Life Arc


c1. Underlying concepts

c2. Coping with the Explosion of Knowledge

c3. Dealing with a World Newly Revealed

The new nature of human beings

c4. What you are not allowed to preach from a pulpit

c5. Managing the Unconscious is re-understood


d1. Bring out your Dead

d1. Silent and Empty

d1. Demonic Black Hole


e1. There is no bottom line

e2. Underneath and before religione

e3. Human trajectory (includes Ehrenreit’s Wild God)


f1. Is there a word for that?

f2. Maps and Images

f3. Epiphany

f4. Can you have an epiphany in an elevator?

Did the industrial revolution end epiphany?

f5. Can we feel the supernatural?

f6. Packaging the Wind

One way we “package the wind” is through architecture. Though the humanistic revolution prompted religious temples to be built on the horizontal, probably the most successful example is not a building but the Vietnam Memorial wall, earthbound and personal in the most literal way. It is available for interaction by humans and yet expresses eternity. In fact, Asians have always been more adept in this way. It might be called “immanent,” dwelling in and arising from the environment.

Western Europeans have expressed their institutional aspirations in a transcendent (even ascendent) way, reaching as high as possible and including much complexification in cathedrals with spires, reaching up. Even the more modest church buildings will put a spire on top. This kind of building requires major funds and many people, expending both over many generations. Notre Dame has made us think about it, especially as we’ve had to deconstruct the burned parts in order to construct anew. But we settled on building a reproduction, simply safer and more enduring.

I knew nothing about Sagrada Familia until the video linked below. It is in Spain, eccentric and yet familiar.

“Towering above the nearby blocks in the Eixample district of Barcelona, the Sagrada Família is unmistakable for its colossal scale and its convention-defying architecture. Looking like a Gothic cathedral seen through a surreal fairytale filter, this is the most audacious project of the influential Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). It is also, more than 135 years after construction began and long after Gaudí’s death, quite visibly still a work in progress.

“The London and Barcelona-based director David Cerqueiro’s film Stone Cut is a brief profile of the Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who, for 40 years, has made finishing Gaudí’s would-be masterpiece his life’s work. Capturing the Sagrada Família with due splendour, the short documentary chronicles how, in committing to transform Barcelona’s once ‘abandoned ruin’ into its crown jewel, Sotoo felt called to stone, and even converted to Catholicism to better know the mind and inspiration of its original architect.”

Remarkably, this work folds together Eastern immanence of meaning from stone in its parts and Western transcendence by a construct of meaning and aspiration. It begins as humbly as flint-knapping an arrowhead and rises in defiance of gravity.

At present my key unlocking phrase for epiphany is “fulfilled arousal.” In earlier reflection on whole body thought and capacity, I talked about “arousal” as being aware in an intense way, often a word used to talk about sex. It is the body’s response but involves the mind and emotions as well. Going into a building like Sagrada Familia would certainly be “arousing” but also gives the state of perception its reward, fulfilling the rising glory with sensory plenitude.

Observing the idea that arousal and therefore epiphanies may be negative as well as positive, we need to suggest comparable examples of fear and trembling. Radically apart from the elevator as symbolizing an industrial contraption, to symbolize terrifying devastation I propose the exploded huge grain elevator at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon which now stands gutted while the life-preserving grain from inside lies spilled on the ground. Since 85% of the country’s vital grain is stored here, part of the terror will be of starvation, but it’s not necessary to be logical to understand the force of the destruction and ominous form left standing. It was a crime of neglect, not taking proper action to remove explosive fertilizer.

I would like to put an image here, but every one that I found was linked to a profit making news source. Even so do we feed on fear.

The Bible suggests the Whirlwind as a sight full of trembling and terror but it is not manmade. The great landscapes of awe and wonder — like the Grand Canyon — are not manmade either, nor do they need prompting from religious sources. These natural instances pre-exist humans altogether.

The capacity to sense what is overwhelming is a human ability that tests our limits of description or understanding, but I haven’t seen any neuroscientific descriptive accounts of what happens. Not everyone ever experiences such a thing. It’s not exactly convenient to be stopped in one’s tracks by a transcendent moment. But others have described the moment to me quietly as full of peace and meaning that they cherished ever after.