Scientific and naturalistic explanations of the world around us bore me.
It’s not that I find such explanations untrue (most of the time), but rather I find that the light is too lab-like fluorescent. Viewed in the wrong light, the world around us fails to inspire. These explanations sell Reality short. When we view the world through the lens of mere science we begin to take our surroundings for granted and we lose something. We lose wonder. We lose awe.
We take things for granted because we come to expect certain things like they are owed to us just for existing. The human heart is a diva.
Now, I’ll gladly grant that our world is chock full of science, reason and logic, for its Creator is rational and logical. Certain things work smoothly because its machinery well-engineered. Science helps us understand natural forces at work in our world that cause certain things to be a certain way—like the process of how a tree uses sunlight to create chemical energy in order to split molecules and harness the power of hydrogen and carbon in order to grow more wood.
But it is stopping short merely to acknowledge the scientific process of photosynthesis. That would just be a boring 5th grade science chart.
But the process of photosynthesis really isn’t boring at all. A chart cannot fully capture the reality of what is happening. The reality is that a tree snacks on sunbeams and water and grows toweringly tall with no input or effort from any man whatsoever. That tall tree then provides food for squirrels, a home for birds and shade for a Sunday afternoon picnic. Later it is cut down and its wood—that odd combination of hydrogen and carbon and sunlight—is cut into 2X4s that frame a house for a family where children are taught and tickled and fed and loved.
Scientific process photosynthesis is stale. It’s correct, but it tastes like hard bread. Real life photosynthesis is wonder hidden in dim light.
I’ve often glimpsed the wonder of the world, though rarely is it more than a glimpse, a fleeting sliver, a footprint in the sand before the tide washes it away. Perhaps this is what C.S. Lewis called Joy. I’ve sensed it standing in the shallow surf of the Atlantic Ocean at night, my toes sinking into cold sand, my tongue tasting the salt on my lips. I see the stars and realize they are not that small, but just that far away. I see the moonlight cutting the rug on the water, looking like a thousand diamonds strewn across the blue blanket—and I remember that exact line from a song I listened to in high school. I admire the obedience of the tides that go thus far and no farther. I feel small looking at the ocean. The world is big. Its Creator even bigger.
I’ve sensed the awe of the world when looking at the deep and wide expanse of cragged mountains. I’ve sensed the terrifying wonder of a summer thunderstorm. The world’s humble beauty in the silence of snow. The warmth of love in the snuggly hugs of my toddler son and the inexorable joy he projects at the prospect of juice.
I never thought to call the wonder that I sense in the world around me magic. Reading N.D. Wilson lately helped me see that magic is an apt description. Not hocus-pocus-necromancer magic, but God-who-stuns-us-with-his-creativity magic.
I didn’t grow up in Narnia and Middle Earth, though I now wish I had. I didn’t read those books as a kid. But I recently read Lord of the Rings so that I can introduce the story to my son in a few years. And my son and I have started making our way through the Narnia books, a few pages each night. As I read these fantasy stories I realize that real life is a fantasy if we stop and think about it.
It’s a true fantasy, but that does not make it any less fantastic. Or magical.
We live in a world of magic. It’s all around us. Do you realize we have moving staircases that carry us up tall flights of steps? Do you realize we have daily access to towers and that these towers have small magical rooms you can enter and in a matter of seconds be 10, 20, or 50+ stories up in the sky? Sure, the rationalistic pessimistic party-poopers will call these things skyscrapers and elevators, but they sound rather magical to me. Do you take notice of the magical things going on all around you in everyday life?
We have healing potions dispensed by wizards in white coats called doctors. “Take a spoonful of this gooey pink liquid for 3 days and you’ll be back on your feet in no time” at least sounds like an incantation.
We have metal tubes, which upon entering you can eat a few peanuts and go to sleep and wake up in Maui, Malaysia or Moscow. We have large and heavy slabs of metal that somehow float on top of water and transport stuff all over the world. We have other slabs of metal that allow people to live under the water. We also get in small metal boxes and roll all over town (or the country) any time we want to. Do we even consider the wonder that we even have metal in the first place? We just happened to find that stuff hidden in the mountains?
We put leaves in hot water and get a beverage. We grind up beans and make another one. We eat three times a day with people we love and we tell stories and jokes as we eat.
We have bugs that light up. Other creatures that fly. And they know when to fly south for a warmer climate. Speaking of climate, we have the power to change the weather. It may be 105 degrees outside, but we can make it a cool 68 inside.
We have slithering reptiles to eat the mice that scare our wives. We have hoes to chop the heads off of slithering reptiles that spook us. And we have the Seed of the Woman to crush the head of the Ancient Slithering Reptile.
We have masses of liquid crystals that roam the earth going where they may, dropping water to irrigate farms that grow wheat that somehow becomes bread on our tables.
We have tiny seeds we hide in the ground that over time become large trees that give us sweet fruit, like candy sprung up from the ground. And then that fruit gives us more seeds, so that we have more candy next year. It’s like we’re standing in front of a perpetual vending machine.
We have recorded histories. We have well-crafted stories. Some of these stories are fleshed out in space and time and distributed to the world on magic light-boxes. And when we sit in our living rooms and look at these boxes our brains convert the light entering our eyes to images that depict the story.
We can talk to someone we love across continents. For free.
We have people we love to talk to. We have something that exists called love.
We have magic memory machines that freeze time and hold an image captive. Forever.
We have odd looking pieces of metal and wood that produce sounds in pleasant tones that are organized by someone’s creativity into melodies and then sometimes given precise words to tell another story. We dance to those tunes and melodies and words.
We splash oil on canvas and stir the hearts of men.
We have arenas of competition where men do battle for pleasure and shake hands afterward.
We die. But that is not the end. It turns out that there is one more magic trick at the end—resurrection. It turns out that death is the path to true life.
Our world is spectacular. Our world is magical. Surrounding you is a magnificent array of things you shouldn’t take for granted. Should’t take for just natural. Not as just the way things are and the way they are supposed to be. Their glory is hidden under a bushel of our own dull souls. But if we will take the time to consider the awe in our everyday existence we will see its magic. If we view it rightly we will trace the magic right up to the Mouth who spoke it, the fountainhead of all glory and wonder and awe.
And if you’re too much a son of the Enlightenment to call it magic, then call it by another name. Call it what it really is.
Call it grace.