Updated: Apr 30
Oft times books are pitched at a single issue or current subject. One written in 1950 may stand the test of time to be potent at later junctures. Many stories, movies, or articles lose their bite within years or a generation. How many books are truly timeless? How often do we see in a book, regardless of the imagery or specifics, that draws us in and captures the minds of people over and over again?
Examples of Timeless Writing
One aspect of a transcendent book is its ability to empathize with the human condition, whether in the protagonist’s characteristics or the feeling you get from reading about the character’s situations. This is why The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and War and Peace are timeless or transcendent. Who has not loved a witty imp who could handle dowering life of his Aunt Polly or the stringent inflexibility of society? Or, these days, who cannot understand the dangers of a world at war, such as in the case of Pierre Bezukhov who is fundamentally on a spiritual
journey through war and inner turmoil. With today’s war in Ukraine—and the unsureness of our day everywhere in the world—we can identify to a greater degree the personal struggles of the characters in War and Peace, which makes the story transcendent. The particulars of either story do not limit their appeal to us.
The case for The Labyrinth of the World is little different, though you might be unfamiliar with the title. Written in 1623, by a Czech philosopher, theologian, and educator, John Amos Comenius. He wrote during a period of vast political and social instability, which seems to be an increasing reality all over the world today. Comenius wrote about his times in terms of vanity, violence, and destruction based on his own experiences in Czech lands, but which have reoccurring touchstones that are always prevalent in any era of history. However, Comenius writes about them in concern to essence instead of specifics: what motivates realities of human existence. These aspects never change. Greed is behind wars, oppression of others, and what motivates political activity most of the time. We all understand these realities with plenty of episodic examples from the beginning of time until now.
Four Levels of Transcendence
In reading Comenius’s story, Pilgrim, the main character, flits about the world on a tour. We can be assured his situation is our situation. The problems he faces are the problems we face. We can be assured that he feels like we do—most of the time—because of the depictions. This makes Labyrinth of the World transcendent. Finding a character that experiences the things we do is an encouragement because we get to feel like we’re the only ones. This is true in War and Peace and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. These books take us places.
Another transcendent aspect of Labyrinth of the World is the objective of Pilgrim’s efforts. He wants to live a good life. Who doesn’t want to live a good life? Living a good life speaks to everyone in every language of every era in history. There is an innate desire within us to both enjoy a good life and/or look back our lives as having lived well in whatever sense. Pilgrim searches from involvement to involvement. He finds only vanity, violence, and destruction even in this most basic efforts of living a good life. How depressing that must have been. How depressing is it when we make this same discovery in our lives?
A third transcendent characteristic of Labyrinth of the World is that stories, particularly allegories and parables, conceal things that reveal understandings to us that plain words would otherwise obscure. Something about “a story” helps us understand at a deeper level. Christ knew this to be the case, which is why He told so many parables. The bad guys could tell He was talking about them. Many could receive encouragement that their situation was not isolated or that they were understood through many of these stories (parables). In an allegory, we can see what speaks to us, what gives understanding without it feeling like we’re attacked. A transcendent book offers a level of empathy that affords the reader encouragement and assures them.
The fourth level of transcendence is for the true body of Christ (corpus verum Christi). The Labyrinth of the World gives us perspective on what it is to be of dissident faith. In fact, part of this dissident faith is being persecuted in that faith and finding The Paradise of the Heart. This essence does not come easy. Something within many of us desires substantiveness that does not come with passive services of religious, ritual, observations. The soul of men (gender-neutral) desires a reality that some might see as an adventure. No one, though, going through what Pilgrim—as an embodiment of Comenius and the Bohemian Brethren—went through would characterize all that they experienced as an adventure. It was harrowing and fraught with danger. Today, people are looking for this type of reality. Many times this involves connecting with emotionally dynamic experiences as we read.
A transcendent book appeals to us because they hook us in with timeless aspects that give the feeling of continuum in what we understand or value during times of upheaval or insecurity. In an age of cyber experiences and the impersonalness of the digital age, we crave reality, connection, and assurance amidst a world we know is going mad. As we are kept busy by meaningless digital distractions, our soul yearns for authentic experiences and substantiveness. These are found in stories, real or allegorical, that capture life at its most real points: man’s inhumanity to man, war, the things political intrigue causes, etc.
As the character of a great story struggle in their context, we grapple with our own at one level or another. We share a type camaraderie and kinship. A transcendent story speaks to us at the core of our being and gives us assurance and encouragement. I have found Labyrinth of the World to be this way in my life.
What stories do you find transcendent and encouraging in your life? Check out the one that rocked my world: https://www.labyrinthoftheworld.com/shop