Magic – Part 1

I’m like Popeye.  I am what I am.  I suppose that also makes me like God, the I am.  I can’t change my beliefs or my broken symbology.  I can’t change my past.  I can move forward.  In fact, I have no choice but to move forward with time.

Every day carries me onward, crest and trough, swell and sink, endless waves of time.  The waves of day and night, work and rest, birth and death wash out on the shores of my life.  Little boats of ego and consciousness sailing on a silver sea.

I often feel like I’ve lost track of myself, that the true me is lost at sea.  I feel like I was most true to myself as a teenager and very young adult.  Perhaps I can simply pretend to be that person again, until I can really be my old self.  Pretend until I can regain my rudder and stability.  To reiterate to myself how important it is to be principled and earnest, eager and playful, reverent and poetic, hopeful and loving, and fearless and charitable.

I miss the poetry in life.  Poetry drained of all its sense of heft and vigor when I lost my faith.  My old symbols lay dead at my feet.

Sometimes I think that I did not lose faith in Christianity itself, but in the magic of Christianity. Oh, I sincerely believed in magic as a child, both in its basic forms – like sympathetic or contagious magic – but also in specific forms.  How often did I shove aside clothes and old suitcases to tentatively touch the back of a closet?  Or close my eyes in the attempt to go through a mirror?  Or stop nervously before going though a dark space and, in my imagination and in mime, put on the armor of God?

I lived in a dream-like world.

At any moment I was prepared to fly away or to come into my own special powers.  I anticipated being able to bring light, change into animals or speak with them, or bring a flower to bloom with a touch.  I was dazzled by the magic aglint in the world.  I was luminous and illuminated with it.  Within me dwelt life and light and it was only a matter of time and fortune to bring it bursting forth into the world.

My experience of magic as a child was immediate and direct – suggested to me by the world I experienced and the movements of my soul and mind.  Perhaps it was influenced by my enculturation in the church – but most religious imagery is too pedantic, confusing, or tied to specific times and places for a child to access imaginatively.  I  found angels in my imaginative life, though, and I found God speaking through natural events and objects.  The lapping of a lakeshore could form words, the wind could billow into one’s soul, a flower could mirror your heart, or a robin could – just as it did for Lucy – lead you, chirpingly, from winter into spring.

I always believed in magical passages – wardrobes, closets, mirrors, and precipices that, if you walked to the very extreme of, you could turn around at and find your landscape changed.  I believed that if you dove deep enough under water you might return to a different surface than you left, and in touchstones or tokens that could transport you like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Even now this kind of imagery holds strange sway over me.  All the same hope and excitement grips me even with more than a quarter century of direct and compelling evidence that none of this is possible.  This magic still holds the seductive possibility for me that, just yet, I may stumble across a place where it is clear that I am the central figure in a crisis of good vs. evil, of existence vs. negation.

Of course, I already am in that world.  I am in the little boat of my life, bourn on the waves of time.  I am the sole dreaming occupant and all the world sits between the oars.

It is in my soul that all these antagonisms play out and I must play my tripartite roles.  I am the good, the bad, and the witness.  I am the ground of existence, the consuming void, and the narrator of my tale.  But as this tiny drama plays out, even as it occupies the very space of my soul, I find I do not know what goes on there or how to influence the outcome.  How strange!  It seems at first that this inaccessible soul is a fixed fact of my life, but the magic of my childhood was how I accessed these parts of me.  When magic was no longer viable I lost valuable insight and access to myself.

(This interior drama reminds me of a Glockenspiel.  How strange and modern to think of my soul as clockwork – my interior life nothing but gears and levers and weights – my thoughts nothing but machinations.)

My belief in Christianity was, I now think, just a way of extending my childish belief in magic, or at least in channels of magic that were clearly closed, into a more codified, respected, and shareable version.

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10 Responses to Magic – Part 1

  1. Dan says:

    i often wonder if magic really is lost, or if it doesn’t really exist. i feel that when things are brought down by people to their ‘essence’ they’re often actually destroyed. there’s a spark, some ‘mystery’ that somehow is lost, or dies, when something is broken apart. even when put back together again, some things will simply never really be the same. the ‘magic’, the ‘mystery’ is gone. i can’t get this analogy out of my head: that somehow our western need to be hyper-rational, and find a ‘reason’ for everything is analogous to a highly autistic person examining some human emotions as if they were things to be coldly ‘understood’…when, in reality, the observer’s paradox kicks in, and the emotion falls apart underneath examination, deteriorating into nothing more than brain waves and chemicals. and thus the absurdity that someone can pinpoint in my brain where my love for my daughter emerges from. maybe so, but by pointing it out you’ve actually missed the emotion itself, and have lost what you are seeking to examine. there is everyday magic and mystery all around us, that we simply cannot understand rationally, or by the scientific method. i don’t care who someone is, or how vociferously they might try and dismiss mystery and extol the virtues of the scientific method and rational thinking, it simply does not apply in all aspects of life…and quite possibly those areas of life that seem the most ‘mysterious’, and are most vulnerable to simply dying when examined ‘rationally’.

  2. Dan says:

    maybe look at the box, examine its benefits and flaws, and say that it’s incomplete? if rationalism is all about examining something in order to understand it, and see if there ARE flaws, couldn’t rationalism itself be examined, and be found wanting? couldn’t you use those same tools in your intellectual toolbox and accept that maybe rationalism isn’t fully complete? applying that humility that so many scientists speak of regarding looking at the data, and changing deeply held convictions…and humbly approach the very need to know everything? maybe there might simply be things that no matter how much we try and examine them, they are unknowable? at least by rational, scientific means? that possibly those are the wrong tools to use in order to understand some key aspects of life, and its meaning? i must admit that i think the coupling of the need to know with the assumption that everything is knowable, and understandable, by humans using human rationality is itself the apex of arrogance.

  3. I think that rationalism refuses to acknowledge that it is a A mode of thinking and purports to be THE mode of thinking. I don’t agree that rationalism is inherently arrogant, I mean, believing something because you think it is true and not because you think it’s nice is simply how thought works. By the way, I think you are right on everything else, that rationalism is flawed, that it can’t even ask the right questions about certain subjects, and that our lives are shallower if we only rely on rational thought to explicate our world. I just don’t know how to get my hands on some valuable non-rational thought.

  4. shaunakatdalal says:

    I really agree to the point Modern rationalism and I am suffering from it too I t feels so connected dear …. thanks for an amazing writeup..!!

  5. Dan says:

    i could be facetious here and say that i definitely know a place where you could get your hand on some valuable non-rational thought…and that would be in the church!! 🙂

    excuse me, facetious moment completed. seriously though, i think that most of the best ‘non-rational’ thought is coming from some of the more spirit- and ecology-minded writers in the Quaker tradition. i have a few lectures that i think are pretty awesome for bridging the divide between ‘rationality’ and ‘experiential spirituality’, where the spirituality isn’t specifically rooted in a ‘divinity’ so much as a sense of a greater connection amongst all aspects of the creation. how would that suit?

  6. Scott Erb says:

    I’ve been reading through your blog a bit – I really enjoy your thoughtful, creative style! Recently the singer song writer Joe South died, and as I read this I remembered a line from his song: “Children, call each other names, Children playing grown up games, and the thing that’s really sad, we lose the faith we had when we were children.” I have to say I still have faith in the magic of the world. I was a Christian until I took World Religions at a Lutheran College and realized that there were snippets of truth – I was lucky to have a very tolerant Professor who told of being a missionary in China and then quitting after talking with some Buddhists there. They have a religion that works in their culture, who am I to try to bring them a different one, he said. (That caused for an interesting discussion – the Prof was an ordained Lutheran Minister, but clearly one with an advanced sense of what it means to be spiritual.).

    Your topic also resonates with a course I’m teaching in an Honors first year seminar. The students have already read some Augustine and we’re doing a semester journey from the other-worldliness of Augustine to quantum physics, reading various authors along the way. The theme of the course ends up being how the enlightenment and its materialist rationality loses something too – reading Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom” towards the end. Tomorrow we’re talking about Petrarch and Boccaccio, which should be fun. Anyway, I look forward to reading more, and going back and reading more of what you’ve already written!

    • Thank you for your kind words! I think your professor was probably right, that each culture, even each person, needs to find out what works for them spiritually. That’s exactly what I’m trying, and inviting others, to do here. You say that you were a Christian, what would you call yourself now? Which of the snippets of truth seemed most truthful? Keep on looking for truth!

      • Scott Erb says:

        I’m finding myself drawn to a kind of neo-Platonist view that all of reality is united and we’re divided by having different perspectives. I have always had a sense that the world is magical – that it has a beauty and meaning as a whole and for my life that is often hidden. I teach International Politics, including a course co-taught with an Early Childhood Education professor on “Children and War.” I’ve delved into the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, and as a specialist on Germany really studied German history and the holocaust. So I’m not espousing a kind of naive sense of faith, only a belief that somehow this all has a purpose and a meaning that I can’t comprehend. I guess I use the ant in the White House metaphor. There’s no way the ant walking through the Oval Office can comprehend what kind of decisions are being made or how important that place is — it’s utterly beyond the ant’s comprehension. I think we’re more like ants than we realize. We know our world but the true meaning of what the universe(s) hold are beyond our capacity to understand. Yet I think we are connected and have some sense of it in our hearts (as Pascal might put it). And I think world cultures and religions often share some core beliefs and values that might be hints at how we can best navigate the world in which we find ourselves.

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