Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Do You Live Magically . . . but . . . Without Superstition?

This is the cover of a fantastic book, so I've heard, and I would love to read it some day. It is a moving memoir of Joan Didion and her year of picking up the pieces after her husband, and friend, of forty years suddenly dies. I did hear a review of it a year or so ago on NPR. But I use this title as a platform to explore a slightly different concept.

The thing that brought this to my mind this week is my passport ordeal. I shared it on our church's prayer chain (a chain I rarely make use of). It was most interesting last Thursday night when I also shared my saga with our Bible study group. The immediate responses (as could easily been anticipated) were either a) "Maybe God is trying to tell you not to go," to b) "It sounds like Satan is attacking you."

I've made comments before how, as part of my post-Evangelical persona, that I really don't want to live with superstitions anymore. I think it is very limiting. I mean, if the old Evangelical Mike was in my present situation I would have pulled the plug due to "lack of peace." I now see that "lack of peace" in more rational terms of anxiety related to the problems that I face. So now, I have the motivation to keep fighting for something that I want and need to do even if it scares the hell out of me.

I do prefer to live rationally rather than with the perspective that there is a demon or angel behind each bush.

With that said, how do we live rationally and not give up the magic of life?

I can remember about 6 years ago I was praying hard about a second house that we could not sell. I had built a house in Houghton, Michigan and then I took a job at Mayo and put the house on the market . . . expecting it to sell in a few months. We ended up owning the two homes for ten years and it was about to bankrupt us. I had to work two jobs for three years to keep us afloat. We only had "showings" of that house about once every 4-6 months.

One day we had such a showing and we were waiting to hear from our Realtor. She had told us it was a very positive showing. I remember walking on a nearby trail at the top of cliffs over-looking Puget Sound. I was praying, more like begging, God to sell that house. I knew the weather was right for a rainbow as it was sprinkling a little rain and the sun had just come out. I prayed, "God if this is going to be the sell, please show me a rainbow."

I got to the top of this bluff and looked in the direction of the sun. Looking down our chain of islands towards Mount Rainer there where patches of rain were softly moving across the hills. I looked behind me and saw a huge double rainbow. I felt some peace.

Our home did finally sell and I can't honestly remember if it resulted from that showing or not. Do I now believe that God had sent those rainbows? No . . . not really. I mean I knew that the weather was perfect for such an event. It was a rational thing. But I do believe that God created this beautiful work in which we live. He also created the optics and physics that allow rainbows to form. God also created something within each of us . . . that part which a rainbow can stir. But do I believe that God created that rainbow for me on that particular day to communicate something about a house in Hougton, Michigan? Nah. I don't think so.

So I was thinking, how do we avoid the superstition that can imprison us . . . but still have that magical spirit that gives us the spice of life? I need to think about this a lot more.


pennyyak said...

Of course, MJ, one may find Christians of every sort using nature as personal divination - it is sometimes a temptation almost too great to avoid. Personally, I take my prayers answered yes or no (or maybe or not now) when and if the thing happens, or not. I most certainly believe prayer is efficacious - I also believe in the sovereignty of God.

A good many Christians historically seem to have also been able to keep this "magical spirit" in literature and life - Tolkien, Lewis, Francis of Assisi, Chesterton's "Elfland", Aquinas' concept of the essence of God, and creation being sourced from that - the list would be very long, and I am not qualified for it, anyway.

I would quite agree that it is not a plain matter, though some people seem to grasp it much better than I do.

MJ said...

Yeah, I like those illustrations.

Anonymous said...

I think one gulf between 'good magic' and 'stupid superstition' (if I may be so bold-lol) is that the good Magic happens and our mind is filled with wonder and awe, whereas the superstition causes us to shut off our brains and proceed (or not proceed) down a course "certain" that it's "God's will" (whether it is or isn't).

I love this post and am very much in a similar musing place about all of this, though I'm sure you're far ahead of me... I wince whenever I hear, "God told me to..." It's sort of par for the course with many of my friends...and I've noticed that it's usually indicative that the brain has been shut off, conversation not allowed, questioning forbidden. I can look back at the times when I said/knew something was of God, yet it wasn't, and it had all those earmarks, anyway...

Yet at the same time, I do believe in God, a God who is Big and Small and everything inbetween, a God who is wonderful and full of wonder.

So I use that inner sense as a measuring stick between superstition and the real magic. If I'm not allowed to think about it, if questions aren't allowed, if I'm absolutely 100% certain of the course, if I not only don't pause to ask for wise counsel but don't feel the need to pause---if I'm rushed or hurried...then....it's fair to wonder if it's just some of that superstition nonsense.

But if I am moved to awe, if questions are still okay, if I am still allowed to think, if there is a sense of life in it all, a sense of fun and wonder and kind of that scary feeling of Bigness...then it might just be of the Magic.

MJ said...

AinM I like those thoughts. When you say, "if I'm absolutely 100% certain of the course," . . . do you mean that Frodo et al faced real danger and a real chance of failure?

I know that you are surrounded by small ones. When my kids were small, the sense of magic was much easier to come by. I spent most of my days building tree houses, fighting dragons, wiring space ships etc. The hum drum of reality was encountered as the exception.

Maybe you're right that when you have a fatalistic certainty, demons and angels fighting for each step before you take it . . . that is where the magic is lost.

Anonymous said...

I was kind of laughing, as I mused more about this topic today, given that my way of telling the difference between the real magic and the hoopla magic is actually kind of still "magical," in that it's relying on intuition more than anything else... :)

I like the Frodo reference...and maybe it's true about young kids...I dunno (but I'll find out, as I age-ha).

I was also thinking of Abraham... I mean, he was given a specific task ("Go to the land I will show you,") and yet it was NOT clear cut or simple, nor did it somehow over-ride his own free will and/or decision making abilities. He went to the land, so the word from God was right, in the general sense, and yet he also went to Egypt, Philistia, never actually built a house, had a concubine slave, had his sister in law of sorts turned to a salt pillar, etc... The fact that he had a word from God in NO WAY took away the adventure and the complexity and the twists and turns that the combo of life and his own choices brought to bear.

But the fundamentalist "God's will" has this fatalistic air to it, a sort of zombi-fication factore that requires no brain, just catch phrases, and no responsibility, just fatalistic, "Allah wills."

But I'm rambling. This is such a great post...I'm going to be thinking about it for awhile...