Once upon a time, I lived in an enchanted world, a world of saints, angelic beings, wonder-working relics, and weeping icons, a world where oil could heal and prayers were answered. It was a beautiful world, a true world, and a world that was full. It was a world I loved. But, it wasn’t a world I was to stay in forever. That world was slowly stripped of its enchantment: it lost its vitality, its colour, its power. The saints and angels faded from view, relics didn’t work wonders, oil didn’t heal, and if my prayers were answered, the answer was ‘no.’
When I found myself in the cold, harsh realities of a disenchanted world, I became a self-identified “fundamentalist realist.” No more sweeping ontological theologies. No more idealized visions of the world and the Church. No recourse to invisible powers. I only cared about what I could see, touch, smell. I only cared about what works, and only cared about ideas inasmuch as they had tangible outcomes in the real lives of men and women. When I approached the Scriptures and Christian faith again, this left me at an interesting place. In some ways, I was well-positioned to hear in them a message Christians often tend to ignore: that our faith must transform, both ourselves and the world around us. After all, Jesus says that ideas must be judged on the fruit they produce. But in other ways, I remained cut off from my tradition, for as much as “The Kingdom of God is among you,” still “My kingdom is not of this world,” and while we will “reap what we sow,” that was never a promise about this side of death. Similarly, the Christian faith insists that in some mysterious ways beyond our comprehension, those who have gone before us can come to our aid, that a ritual washing can make us a different kind of human, and that bread and wine can become for us the very presence, life and power of God. And so in order to really connect with my tradition, I needed to find a way of re-enchanting the world. While I wouldn’t have phrased it this way at the time, I needed to rediscover magic.
The Christian tradition has always been suspicious, if not openly hostile, towards the idea of the magical. The belief underlying that opposition is the sense that magic is a kind of lust for power and control, bending the universe to suit our will, and treating the world as something to manipulate, rather than as something to receive as a gift, with gratitude. There is a lot of wisdom in this concern. But, it doesn’t tell the whole story. While some of the stories about magic do involve such a desire to manipulate the world, those are often cautionary tales. Most magical stories are more about being caught up in the synergies and the flow already at work in the world: This is the magic of the Muses, the magic that ignites a budding romance, the magic of a blanket of fresh snow, of potential and possibility, the magic of meaning. And in this sense here at least, there is a lot of overlap with the Christian tradition, with providence and grace, those energies of God that “work all things for good.”
As I was thinking about this, my mind turned once again to the Magi. What was magical about the magi? Nothing, except that they were watching. They had eyes to see and ears to hear what God was doing in the world around them.
And as I reflect back on my attempts at re-enchanting my world, it was this magic from paying attention that led the way: The magic of the evening sun dancing on the waters of the Salish Sea, the magic of the dappled sunlight shining through a forest canopy, the magic of a young father’s face lighting up with joy at the sight of his child. Beauty, awe, wonder, joy — the overwhelming sense of gratitude that comes from noticing what is happening around me. This is similar to what I discovered in my year of sacred practices: that the simple act of paying attention to something can transform it into an opportunity for meaning and grace.
Most of the time, the world doesn’t feel very enchanted or magical. Most of the time it feels like I’m swimming against the current, or traveling alone in the wilderness on a moonless night. Synergies feel far off, and the world feels like a graceless place. And so, it’s important for me to remember this lesson from long ago: to watch, to keep my eyes open, and to pay attention. Because when I do, the world reveals itself to be a truly wondrous, magical place.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.