By Dr. Jim Ferguson
For a kid the most exciting time of the year is Christmas; and it’s all about magic.
We regularly pick up our “cute-ones” (aka grandkids) from preschool, and last Wednesday they were excited, not just to see us, which they usually are, but because their parents were taking them to see Santa Claus that evening. In the back seat, on the drive home, there was lively chatter about the food flying reindeer needed and whether Rudolph’s red nose was needed by Santa Claus every year.
As we waited for their parents, Becky and I helped our cute-ones make a wish list for Santa, even though the grampsters hadn’t heard of many of the latest toy rages. I felt blessed to be with my grandkids and to bask in their magical exuberance and wide-eyed innocence.
We all grow up and eventually lose the fairy tale wonder of Christmas, except perhaps Peter Pan or Will Ferrell’s character in the Christmas movie, Elf. However, though growing up is natural and deemed healthy, it is not without cost, as magic is replaced sometimes by the hard realities of life.
I grew up in another “magical” time, when it was safe to walk to school and play in the neighborhood unsupervised. And I remember the excitement of Christmas and it’s magic which I relive with my grandkids. That same sense of magic and innocence is captured in another movie classic, A Christmas Story, as Ralphie wishes and angles for a Red Rider BB gun.
I remember the day in second grade when lunchroom sophisticates challenged my sense of Christmas magic. I was the oldest of three brothers, but my lunchroom buddy had an older and of course more urbane brother who told us that my parents were Santa Claus. I was devastated and remember asking my Mother if this was true. Perhaps wishing to spare me and my younger brothers the harsh reality of growing up too soon, she and my father conspired to have Santa Claus pay the Ferguson boys a visit.
When the doorbell rang the next night it was accompanied by the ring of sleigh bells held in the hand of Santa Claus himself! Just as in the poem “A Visit by St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, “my” Santa was a jolly old elf in a red suit with a beard as white as snow and bag full of toys slung over his back. It was a magical moment and I believed again, at least for awhile. The bubble finally popped, perhaps a year or so later, when late one Christmas Eve, I peered from my doorway and saw my parents (Santa’s agents) putting toys under the tree. I don’t remember telling my brothers what I had seen. I wasn’t philosophical at that time, but perhaps I thought it best my brothers find their own truth. And perhaps it was my own denial which pushed me to hold onto the magic and the mystery of Christmas.
Do you believe in magic, defined as observations without explanation? I’ll paraphrase a well known scientist and writer who opined that sufficiently advanced technology would be perceived as magic by a less advanced culture. Pictures and videos of cute-ones on my iPhone might be considered magic if shown to the primitive people who recently murdered the missionary encroaching on their isolated island in the South Pacific. (Polaroids in Guatemala)
Since the Enlightenment, Man has demanded objective reality through observation and scientific testing. Some years ago I came across the concept of an open or closed universe. To a naturalist or a materialist reality is defined by what he can observe, measure or comprehend. Anything that is not contained within his conceptual sphere doesn’t exist. This conceptual boundary defines a “closed” universe. An open universe is not bound by anyone’s current knowledge or imagination.
Soren Kierkegaard coined the term, a “leap of faith.” Contextually, this most often refers to spiritual matters. However, I believe the concept applies to science as well. Have you ever been around a kid who constantly asks you, “Why?” No matter what your answer he again asks, “Why?” to the point of irritation or absurdity.
Some years ago a friend challenged me with the notion that at some basic level even scientific observation is a “leap of faith” because you compare that observation against some “standard” accepted as an article of “faith.” As an example, I’ve never observed Hong Kong nor have I seen an electron, yet I accept that they exist because others have seen that Asian city and scientists write equations for subatomic particles which power my iPhone. My point is, I acknowledge that my own reality depends on faith.
For me the world is like overlapping circles of a Venn diagram. There is the scientific observable circle of reality and the spiritual sphere. They overlap and magically define my vision of reality. I accept that I can’t know everything and therefore embrace a limitless and “open universe.”
I can accept Santa Claus, not so much a phenomenon, as he is a spiritual essence of Christmas. I know this is a bit unscientific, but I’ve already shown you that science alone has a limited horizon. I prefer a limitless vision and accept the notion that some things today may seem like magic and in futures ages may have scientific explanations.
There are other magical things all around us which defy boundaries and precise definitions. A noteworthy example is love. We’ve all experienced love in one of its many variations, such as love of grandchildren, wife, country or chocolate. We define these loves by comparison to shared emotions or experiences of other humans. I know the color red because I’m not color blind and can share this vision with others.
In his gospel and epistle, John described God as love and that love is God. And when the Word became flesh two millennia ago and dwelt among us, we were given a tangible essence of love.
That Spirit of love still walks among us, especially at Christmas. And the magical love that changed the world goes on.