I'll keep being open to deep magic until I find a way to believe in it.
A few months ago I said something too lightly and there was in it a disrespect. Someone had asked whether people could get fixated on using magic as a quick fix to their problems. “If only magic worked as a quick fix,” I said. “Usually, though, you can ‘bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’ all over your problems, and you look up and they’re still there. Who’s going to get fixated on that?” I should have gone on to say, “Deep magic, though, deep magic demands effort and change.” I wish I’d said something more respectful like that, but I’m used to keeping silent about my feelings about magic.
Things work mysteriously in my life. My rational side doesn’t believe in praying to saints, but when I lose something I say, “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. My phone is lost and it must be found.” A lot of times, I’ll get a mind picture of where something is, or I look one more time in a place I looked twice before and there it is. I don’t believe in this, but sometimes it works.
I believe in the laws of thermodynamics too, but sometimes I look in the same drawer three times and the lost thing isn’t there. The fourth time, there it is, easily visible. At our house we call that “gremlins.”
As I was writing this column I lost my debit card. Looking through the hotel room, shaking out all my clothes, searching my pocketbook over and over, it was nowhere. I felt that I knew where I’d left it, but the place was closed for holidays. The bank would give me another, but it was also closed for holidays. I resigned myself to using a credit card until the banks opened again, but then I realized I hadn’t talked to St. Anthony. “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. My debit card is lost and it must be found.” Three minutes later I was putting on my shoes. When I put my left foot down, it slid, as if something slick were on the floor. Lifting my foot, there was the debit card, under my shoe, where it hadn’t been (I would swear) when I first picked up the shoe.
I don’t believe in hands-on healing, either, but I have been helped by Reiki and I’ve helped others by doing it for them. My rational mind understands that I really want magic to be true. I don’t believe in supernatural magic that breaks whatever laws there are in the universe (even though they seem to break themselves once in a while). I want it to exist in the world, not in some kind of supernatural way, but in a way that is consonant with the natural world, part of it that we haven’t figured out yet how to detect or measure. So many people experience these mysterious confluences that it would be unscientific to ignore them. They remain unexplained, and yet there they are.
I’ll tell you about one time magic worked. Years ago I had finished an interim ministry job, and I was trying to build my counseling practice again. Business was slow as, during the interim years, I had divorced my husband, become a Unitarian Universalist, and come out as a lesbian. In this small southern town, people couldn’t figure out whether to be more shocked that I was gay or that I was Unitarian. In that town, you’re either a Christian or a Jew, or you must be a Satan worshipper. The paradigm doesn’t stretch to cover more possibilities.
Underemployment had eaten all my savings in a few months, and I was searching frantically for work. On the brink of taking a job counseling children who had been sexually abused, a job I knew would hurt me and my young children, I made an altar and started talking to the Mystery, the Oversoul, the One. I wrote down what I wanted in a job: Enough money to take care of my children and myself. Part time, so I could be with them after school. I wanted to like the people I worked with, and I asked to laugh every day. “I’m not the person for this job,” I said out loud. “It will kill me.”
A voice said back to me (not out loud, just as if I were remembering a conversation in my mind), “Would you work in a factory?”
“Yes,” I answered unequivocally. “I’ll do whatever.”
I lit a candle and let it burn until I went to bed. In the morning I got a phone call from my friend Pat Jobe, a co-author on our book The Best of Radio Free Bubba.
“Margaret Ann,” he said, “can you drive a tow motor?”
“Pat, I don’t know what a tow motor is, but I can learn.”
“There’s a job here at Charlie’s place. You get to go to the bathroom twice a day, and you get half an hour for lunch. Want to come interview?”
“Shall I wear my new silk interview suit?”
“Well, you can bring it if you want,” he said, and I heard Charlie laughing in the background.
That was a lovely job. Pat had lied about the rules and the tow motor. The rigidity in me that said I had to do something related to all my training in counseling let go, and I worked as a salesperson in a place that recycled oil. Relaxing into the noise and the smells, I had the thrilling experience of calling people on the phone who didn’t want to talk to me instead of, at a church, calling people who wished I had called earlier. I got paid enough, I met men who weren’t academics or clergy, men with useful hands and practical minds, and I laughed every day because Pat and Charlie were the funniest people I’d ever known. Pat and I kept our guitars by our desks and wrote songs, and I wrote a book.
The magic worked, but it demanded that I let go of thinking of myself as a minister and therapist. Working Charlie’s job moved a stiff-necked self-definition and made room for more humility, creativity, friendship, awareness, and fun. I didn’t “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” over my financial panic, but I surrendered, willing for deep magic to work, and its gifts were profound. I don’t turn to it often, though, wary of its demands.
I don’t think that magic is anything supernatural. I think it’s part of the natural world that moves in us and through us. A lot of flakes and sinners use it to bamboozle the needy and gullible, but they use faith, love, and hope that way too, and I wouldn’t be willing to scorn those because they are hard to measure and sometimes get used for dishonorable purposes. I’ll keep being open to the deep magic, and practicing it, until I find a way to believe in it.
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The Rev. Meg Barnhouse, a UU World online columnist, is senior minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, Texas, and the author of several books, including Broken Buddha. She is also a humorist and singer-songwriter. (Author’s website.)