12
Dec
11

Do you believe in magic…

A woman I knew in Syracuse, NY ran a New-Age Wiccan bookshop and giftshop. Once my daughter and I needed to get home, and she offered to drive us. It was a cold winter day and we were glad of the ride. Her car was old and of uncertain power. As she was about to turn the ignition key, she uttered a prayer I remembered from my Catholic childhood (though I do not remember which prayer it was now — go figure!). I asked her about the apparent inconsistency that she, a practicing Wiccan and the owner of a Wiccan shop, was uttering a Christian prayer before turning the ignition key. Her response has stuck with me — “there are all kinds of magic in the world, and so I like to keep my options open.” The car did start, and she thanked St. Jude (patron saint of hopeless causes) or St. Anthony of Padua (patron saint of lost items) for the help. Thinking that it was all just good luck, I thought little more of it.  But I often think of the spirit of her sentiment, that the world is full of magic, that each of us has some magical power — just yell at someone doing something that drives you crazy to stop, and that person will almost certainly stop, if only for a minute.  Still, you uttered something that might be called a spell (aren’t all commands and requests spells of a sort), and it had an effect.  And I often think of the eclectic quality of her thinking.

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the feast day in honor of the appearance of Mary to a simple Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, with instructions that a church should be built. The church authorities, who were more educated and more powerful than Juan (they knew it, and he knew it) did not believe him, but asked for a sign. The sign that Juan got and presented to the Church authorities were roses in bloom in the winter. And so the Church was built and Mary became the patron saint of Mexico. When I taught in Chicago, I learned of this story because the Latino students in the school would sell roses on December 12 to raise money, but also to celebrate what, for Mexican Americans is their Valentine’s Day. I was so affected by the story that I soon adopted it as one of my own Feast Days.
Nineteen years ago, on this day, December 12, I signed the book at May Memorial Unitarian Society in Syracuse, NY. Having had my conversion experience on Easter Sunday, I had determined to join May Memorial as a member and to announce to all that I was now a Unitarian. But I chose not to sign the book publicly at the next service for New Members, but to do so privately on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (which was a Saturday that year). For me that would be a signal event. Yes, I was switching my official religious affiliation from Roman Catholicism to Unitarianism, but I was doing so in a way that celebrated that part of my Roman Catholic upbringing and indicated that I wasn’t leaving that behind.
Though I remain Unitarian, I still hold on to those stories of the saints that I loved so as a kid, and I still hold on to a belief in revelation (and magic)  in the world that those stories suggested to me then, and suggest to me now.  I no longer believe in some all-powerful interventionist God, nor do I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  But, I often think that we (all of us) are the hands of Go(o)d in the world, and that we can make magic happen.  It is not Samantha Stevens/Endora sort of magic (twitch your nose and move furniture about telekinetically).  But we do  have the power to make someone’s day a bit better, to make the world a bit better and to do the reverse.  We can respond to the beauty of a sunset, or roses, or beautiful words beautifully read.  And all of those are magic, I would maintain.  And I think most of us have some sense of that — when we do something special for someone, we clearly do it from good intentions, but also because we want to have that magical effect on our world.  And if the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe has any significance for me, it is that the vision happened to a poor peasant, a nobody.  He wasn’t expecting something amazing, but he was open enough to see it when it happened.  And those know-it-alls in the Bishop’s office — they had their minds so made up, they couldn’t entertain the idea that Juan Diego might be right, might have had something wonderful happen.  The certainty of their knowledge almost got in the way of their ability to believe and to wonder, and, but for the roses, they would have remained firm in that knowledge, and missed something spectacular.  So in our busy and often crazy whirlwind of a life, you have to ask yourself one question: do you believe in magic, well, do ya, Pink? (I’m thinking Pink probably does).

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