Do you believe in magic?

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My dad was a pilot. One ramification of that was that he was endlessly interested in the weather. He always knew the forecast and had his eye on developing situations. In the days prior to The Weather Channel, I remember him clicking through all the network channels to catch a glimpse of meteorological maps at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think he had a special phone number that he could call for weather factors prior to any flight. When I planned my wedding to be outdoors around our family lake, it naturally fell to my dad to monitor incoming storms and the current weather phenomena of that year, El Nino. Up until the day before my wedding, he predicted that everything would blow over without incident. But, he was wrong.

The night before my big day, it poured and poured. I stood out on our back porch in the wee hours worried how everything we had set up by the lake would survive the deluge. Even though the morning dawned bright and sunny without a cloud to blame the soaking grass on, my soon-to-be husband and I made the decision to move everything to the rustic (and rusty) airplane hanger on the airstrip. This involved a gargantuan effort. My mom called in church friends to reinforce my ready and willing large family in moving my Martha Stewart dream wedding from the idyllic setting on the lake to what we dubbed “the Eddie Bauer wedding backup plan” under the sheltered overhang of the aging steel hangar where various plane skeletons and aeronautic and farm gear cluttered up the pine forest beside the grass airstrip. I won’t go into all the details involved in this, although it is a good story in itself, because I want to get back to my own personal soothsayer…er, I mean, weather forecaster.

All day, as we worked miracles to transform the junky, but dry space into something resembling at least “quaint,” dad would come and go giving updates from whatever weather source he had in those pre-internet days.

“Things are looking good, Kay!” he would jaunt. “I predict its going to blow right past us.”

After lunch and visiting his secret source again, he amended his prediction to, “I think it will just miss us!”

At this point, I was tired of his optimistic prognostications and snapped.

“Dad, we’ve already moved everything from the lake. It doesn’t matter if it rains. In fact, I want it to rain so that we will be justified in moving my beautiful wedding to this dump! Stop telling me what the weather is going to do!”

He stopped telling me, but I overheard him telling others that they didn’t need to fret. “It’s going to blow over.”

If dad was still alive today, he’d probably insist he was right on that call. It didn’t rain during the wedding. It did “blow over” by start time, but it absolutely flooded while it “blew through.” About an hour prior to start time, the rain and wind gusted through the covered, yet exposed-on-three-sides ceremony space, wetting cookies, ushers, and chairs; thankfully sparing the little bridesmaids huddled under multiple umbrellas in the driest part of the overhang. Lightning struck a tree 50 feet away and it crashed down on the roof.

I’m really not making this up.

I spent the last few hurried minutes in my room, trying to transition from designer and manger to bride. I gave up what my wedding was supposed to be and accepted what it was, a soggy and damp mess. I cried a little at the disappointment, but I was so thankful we didn’t listen to my father’s predictions of fair weather, and moved things to a more sheltered location. We dried everything off in time for guests to arrive, ferried folks with umbrellas, and marveled at the beautiful sunset the storm had gifted us.

I learned that day that even though we can predict and speculate, no-one can know the future. Even though we took the safe route and moved to shelter, the storm that hit us was completely out of our control.

My dad and I discuss some last minute detail. He looks like he is enjoying the weather chaos, doesn’t he?

Things are out of control!

As I write this post, the world is in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Back in May, I had a conversation with a friend where I found myself shrugging again and again. We were speculating how things would go for the 2020 Fall school year. I shrugged. We mused over the chance of contracting the disease if we participated in certain activities. I just had to shrug. We wondered about the data concerning immunity and asymptotic transmission. I shrugged again. I have never felt so out of control, uncertain and unable to predict outcomes. I find that I am acting like my dad did with his weather updates. I rely on doctors and check and recheck the scientific data and knowledgeable theories to order the chaotic world around me, to make sense of the unpredictable, and to exert some control over my own health and ultimate outcome. But the doctors and scientists are shrugging too. They need more time, more data, more understanding of the detached factors that are determining the functions of this disease. Once they have that, then they can deal with it. Then we are safe from Covid-19. Then, we can go back to living a normal life that we can predict and control once more.

At least, that is the delusion that I am happy living under. The reality is, even when we understand the factors that determine the dangerous things in this world, we still are not in control of them. Like the storm that hit on my wedding day, prediction does not equate command. It is impossible to subdue reality to our own desires. This global pandemic has revealed how delusional we have been to think we were ever in control of our reality to begin with.

Genesis 1 announces that Someone is in control.

In my last post, I looked at Genesis 1 from the viewpoint of the author to the original audience. I argued that we moderns read the creation story very differently than they did. The original message of Genesis 1 is that God is in control of everything. The ancient way of thinking about the universe placed an impersonal and vague magic as the source of control, and imagined the natural world as the personification of gods. The original message of Genesis 1 was not to explain how God physically manufactured the world (which is how we tend to think), but to depersonalize and dethrone the natural world, and to invert the ancient’s belief in magic with a Person.

Figure from Herbert Chanan Brichto, The Names of God, Figure 2-1, page 61.
Figure from Herbert Chanan Brichto, The Names of God, Figure 2-1, page 61.

Is the ancient message of Genesis 1 still relevant for us today? Most of us who live in the United States don’t believe in a world full of gods and goddesses who manage the world around us, but do we believe in magic? If we understand magic to be a set of impersonal control attributes that determine and shape reality, then I believe many of us still do. And, in this way, Genesis 1 is very relevant for us. We still need to hear it’s original message that Someone, not something, governs our entire existence.

It seems to me that this is the crux. This is the connection we share with the original audience. Our imaginations, or theories, still construct a world ruled by something detached and indifferent to us. We don’t call it magic anymore, but we do slap it with the label, “science.” Science is defined as an organized body of knowledge based on predictable patterns that we experience. It is also a process through which we understand the natural world, and in turn use it to control our own circumstances. In this way, both science and magic are used to subdue reality to our own wishes. We’ve replaced spells with formulas, divination with data projections and weather forecasting, and sorcery with medicine. Please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that science is immoral. I do not believe that anymore than I believe magic is immoral. But, this is what I am saying. When we place our organized body of knowledge as the control attribute for reality, we usurp the Person for the natural phenomena he ordered to perform in certain predictable and controlled ways. We elevate impersonal natural “laws” to the supreme position, and push the Person aside or out of the picture altogether.

Instead, Genesis 1 inspires us to recognize a Person in the realm of ultimate power. When we do this, our perception of reality changes. The Bible calls this reality shift, faith. Faith reorders the unknowable and abstract things that are out of our control under the good governance of a Person who proclaims his own existence and power.

I have found that the global pandemic has revealed an internal struggle inside me. Do I believe there is something impersonal like magic or science that is randomly regulating the world around me? Or do I trust there is a Person behind it all? I’ve noticed more than ever that I need Genesis 1 to re-order my belief system back to faith in a God who is in control.

My father was a man of faith and a man of science. Even though he enjoyed reckoning with the predictable nature of weather, he consistently relied on the Person who orders the weather and controls all of reality. He begun my wedding ceremony with this prayer. I am schooled by its simplistic declaration.

“Heavenly Father, How great thou art. We know you control … everything.”

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