On Magic and Not Magic

When I announced we were having a magician come and entertain us next month, a parishioner asked me if that was going to scandalize anyone. I hadn’t thought about it but I learned that in some of the religious traditions that some of our parishioners come out of, a magic show would constitute a dabbling in the occult. For us Orthodox, dabbling in the occult is a problem, but while we would put activities like palm readers, séances, and Ouija boards in that category, we would see a “magician” not as dabbling in magic, but rather entertaining us by the performance of an illusion. After all, we believe in the existence of evil, but we don’t believe in magic.

But then I heard a few comments around the parish that made me wonder if some of us actually do believe in magic, even if of a different sort. When the schedule of services for Christmas was being discussed, more than once I heard “Why do we have to come back for Liturgy on Monday? Doesn’t it last from Sunday’s Liturgy?” And then this past week, as I was encouraging folks to arrange for their Houseblessings, more than once I was asked if the blessing “wears off” from one year to the next. Although some of this was just cute joking, I think if we’re honest we might find out that we all might have a degree of “magical thinking” going on when it comes to the life in Christ, as lived in Holy Orthodoxy.

If you think about it, wondering how long a blessing “lasts” in terms of its effectiveness has a kind of magical quality to it—how long is the “whammy” good for? It does sound silly when we say it like that, but I think we can fall into this kind of thinking when we think of a blessing as something and not a blessing from someone.

Our life in Christ is, at its heart, not an arrangement, situation, or status. It is a relationship. Situations and arrangements can wear off or change with the passage of time. Relationships can too, but only based on the efforts of those with whom we relate. We can say we don’t need a haircut or an oil change based how recent the last one was. Those things over time will “wear out” but until they do, there’s no need to be concerned with them. Relationships are different; they always need to be tended, cared for, and developed. We’d never respond to a request for a hug from a spouse or child with “I hugged you yesterday.” We know instinctively that relationships operate on a different principle than something that wears off, because they are with someone.

Blessings, whether from participation in a Divine Liturgy or through the blessing of our homes are not things we get that wear off. They are expressions of the love of God sent to us in His actions in loving us. At one and the same time, we can say that they don’t “wear off” because they are not things. Rather, in our effort at building up the relationship we have with God—or more properly, responding to His efforts at loving us—we need to continually seek ways to receive the blessings that He continually offers us.

Again and again, in peace, we approach the Chalice to feed our lives with His Life, and uniting ourselves to the events which in the life of Christ, His Mother or the Saints, who bring us our salvation.

Again and again, in peace, we receive the Blessing of the Jordan that He entered into in order to bless and restore it, drinking of those waters and asking His Priests to sprinkle our homes with it.

Again and again, in peace, we return to Him in Holy Confession, when we forget Who He is and then act outside of that knowledge in our confusion and sin.

Again and again, in peace, we pray to Him with the words He taught us to pray, thankful we can approach His Father, calling Him “Our Father.”

In spite of the appearance of repetition, these acts are continually new, in our relationship with the One Who make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Magic is for those who don’t know God or His desire to know us, and need something else to believe. We don’t believe in magic, we believe in God.

Again and again, in peace, let us pray to the Lord.