They say that magical thinking generally ends, around the age of ten. Magical thinking… the whimsical linking of cause and effect in areas where you have no empirical proof yet believe just the same. It’s the eerie feeling as a kid when you are walking somewhere and fastidiously avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. I wonder how many people took a chance and stepped on a crack just to see if it was true. If magical thinking persists into adulthood, psychologists see it as a disorder. Those people wind up being religious. At least that is how rational folk see it. Sigmund Freud in The Future of an Illusion, says, “Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality”.
Still, I have often wondered about the magic, because it is the double-whammy people look for to make the difference. If you enter into someone else’s faith system, their particular magic jumps right out at you because you have not encountered it before. This happened when I attended a wedding in Quebec, where high Catholicism retains some of the things that were done away with in Vatican II. During the wedding the Priest performed a mass, and there was that moment of consecration where he put the chalice and the wafer into a little closet, and then a bell chimed. I asked people after, what the bell was all about. The bell apparently sounds so that people will know just when the magic is happening. For Catholics it’s that particular moment that makes the difference, when the consecrated Host becomes the body and blood of Jesus.
When I was a boy growing up Pentecostal, they told you the magic was in tongues speaking. It was evidence of holy things taking place. Magical words were supposed to be the tongues of angels, speaking oracles that were wonderful and incomprehensible to the human ear. There is also that issue of miracles, or at least direct cause-effect miracles. If you couldn’t get someone instantly healed like those stories from the Bible, people explained it away as dispensationalism… the idea that the “magic” resides only in certain times and places in order to make people believe, and after that has an expiry date. Must have been fun to grow up in those times, when you didn’t call the doctor because the lame walked and the blind could see on demand.
If you can’t witness a miracle with your eyes, then what is the thing that gives religion its draw? Most people will walk away at that point, unless you really like to engage in magical thinking. Still, the churches are full enough. There is a new one opened up down the road from us, one of those mega churches. It’s a little more raucous than we are used to, I know because we attended one weekend not long ago. And, stepping out of our own box, it is always good to see where the magic lies with other people.
The magic might have been found in the obvious things. There was sheer size. The place was packed to the rafters. There was the matter of lighting effects and volume. Was God there? Even if you could not see him, the rock and roll band was shaking the foundations of the universe. No polite and ancient liturgy for them. Lots of funky hair cuts and a very young demographic.
What grabbed me was something unusual. Over in the corner under a single spotlight in the darkness, a lady signed the message. That intrigued me, as it always does, to watch the animated gestures of someone who speaks with their hands. It put the words of scripture into my mind. “Those who dwelt in a land of darkness, on them a light has shone” “The light shone in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” The deaf could suddenly hear because they could read the signs just as prophesied. The mysterious Word eminating forth out of the void.
The proclamation portion of the message – the Greek word for it is Kerygma. Kerygma is the Uber-truths that transcend all the other truths. They are the words that make the difference. They hold the particular magic. Proclamation… to shout it out loud and proud. Preaching has been given negative connotations in our modern age. The word preachy describes someone prone to giving their unsolicited opinions. But when you see someone preaching the Gospel message, what they are saying will grab you… or not. The word might have a power that does not rest on human skill or the power of delivery. You will know it when you hear it.
There is I suspect in every human being, a hunger for a bit of child-like magic, the kind you can’t believe in anymore once you know better. And so we have poets and sages to speak to the heart when the head is too thick. You want to hear some wonderful words? I read these from the prophet Isaiah and imagine how the people felt when they heard them the first time.
“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Isaiah 55: 1–2
I don’t know about you, but that is the kind of magic that will last, because in the void of modernity, it is the vital thing missing, the part that people are still searching for. My soul could delight in a little fatness, especially after a long and hard day’s work. I expect for Isaiah’s hearers, the issue was the same, because here we are, centuries later still reading those words and wondering about them.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” Joel 2:28
I could do with a little more inspiration and a little less perspiration. I could do with a bit of magic and I am not too old to dream dreams. Unless something seismic changes, I suspect many more people out there will feel the same way.