Rudolph Otto, a German scholar of comparative religion and a philosopher, articulated the notion of a numinous experience—an experience of a mysterious presence that elicits at the same time fear and fascination, the “mysterium tremendum” and the “mysterium fascinosum.”
He further indicated that most human beings have a sense of this numinous experience, which makes possible the discovery of an ultimate purpose in life or what God wants us to do to make our world better.
Today’s Feast of the Epiphany reminds us of this numinous experience, the manifestation of the divine presence in our life that very often begins with a realization of some interior meaning or insight.
To put it simply, it is an encounter of God’s presence in our life, and sensing or knowing we have a mission.
Manifestation of Christ
In our Christian tradition, the Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, as symbolized by the Three Magi or Kings paying homage to the Child Jesus. It carries with it symbols and meaning that help us articulate our mission.
First, there is the journey that the Three Kings took to search for this child. Second, there is the star that guided the journey, and eventually led to the child. Third are the gifts brought and offered to the child.
This is our story, too. We journey in search of meaning and purpose, our life mission. Our star is our dream of who we want to be and the good that we want to do, the seed of mission planted in our heart and soul.
We take the journey, and the choices we make along the way lead us to the child in the manger, to the divine presence in our life. It is in this presence that we make the most important choice.
Will we offer our gifts, who we are and all that we have, to the child in the manger? Will we enter the core of our relationship with God, or will we stay in the periphery and live a mediocre life—a life that could be a good life, but not a life lived excellently because we fall short of doing what God wants us to do?
What could possibly prevent us from making this important choice? We go back to Otto’s experience of the mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinosum in the presence of God and his mission for us.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit priest and poet, wrote that God’s will is often accompanied by this combined fear and fascination. All things from God begin with fear, a sense of doubt and unworthiness of being in the presence and service of God.
When we allow this fear and sense of doubt and unworthiness to take the better of us, then we do not choose to offer.
What keeps us in the game, so to speak, is the sense of fascination, an attraction that we sometimes cannot fully explain yet one that tugs at our heart and soul. In the words of St. Augustine, “My heart is restless until it rests in you alone.”
Back to the manger
Going back to the manger and making our offering to the child is entering the core of our relationship with God—the child who came into our world to be God with us, missioned to heal a broken world and save fallen humanity.
This child, to whom we offer, will help us overcome our fear and transform our fascination into a deep sense of mission to bring his presence into the world and to others—a life to help build a world “filled with the grandeur of God.” —CONTRIBUTED