Hierophanies

Back in my undergraduate career, I took a fascinating class on Religious Studies. Coming from a small-ish town in Minnesota, I had a yearning to hear about the world and how people lived; my upbringing was about as homogeneous as it gets (unless you count the occasional interdenominational Christian marriage as “diversity”), so I wanted to soak it all in; I ended up majoring in Global Studies and Spanish, after all.

After I had knocked out my homework for my required classes, it was almost something of a treat to dive into the study of spirituality and find common threads and distinguishing characteristics of various religious experiences around the world.

Surprising (or possibly, unsurprisingly, if you’re familiar with the academic world), this class came with a dense vocabulary book; terms invented or repurposed to define the through lines between different expressions of spirituality. Until today, one term in particular has stuck in a way that others haven’t: Hierophany.

A hierophany, simply put, is a bursting through of the divine or the spiritual into humanity. It is a melding of the “sacred” with the “profane,” or at least an interaction between the two. Some traditions are rife with them; it is not at all uncommon for some peoples’ gods to manifest in regular, frequent ways.

Now in Advent, I’m drawn to reflect on this theme within my own beliefs: What constitutes a hierophany in Catholicism? Where does God burst through into our very human existence? How does Jesus Christ meet us?

In some ways, I would almost argue that the term doesn’t even apply; if you believe that God is ever-present, is he really ever breaking through any kind of divide between the “sacred” and “profane”? If the God-Man came to Earth as a human infant, can anything human truly be called profane?

But let’s flip the script. Can anything be more accurately described as a bursting through of the divine than the incarnation? What about the Eucharist? While it’s true that God is always with us, that His Spirit dwells within us, we also profess a unique faith in the Sacraments. The Sacraments reflect God’s understanding of the very human desire for a tangible, material experience of the divine.

Sisters and brothers, GOD CARES FOR US. Even the imperfect parts of us that cannot believe without seeing! He gives us real matter, things that we perceive with our five senses. St. Thomas Aquinas is famous for his view that our physical perception of the world around us was an essential to experience and learn more about God.

If this is true, how good it is that God gave us His Son, who became man! How wonderful it is that Jesus gave us the Sacraments!

Last week, I discussed the “Three Advents”: The birth of Jesus Christ, his Second Coming, and Christ coming into our lives every day. The first two move us greatly. What inspires greater celebration than Christmas? And what inspires greater fear and awe than the Second Coming?

But how deeply are we affect by the Third Advent, where Jesus Christ bursts forth into our lives every day. He is present in Spirit, in Scripture, and in the Sacraments. Let us rest in His Spirit, soak in the Scripture, and avail ourselves of the Sacraments. As we reflect on his birth during the Advent season, may we also reflect on the ways he visits us every day.

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