Magical, Not Magic

I’ve mentioned before, Shane Claiborne et al’s, Common Prayer, which I occasionally use as part of my daily prayer. In addition to prayers for each day, the book includes some side notes for reflection.

One of the side notes the grabbed me is titled Liturgy is Magical, but not Magic.

The note talked about the origin of the phrase “hocus pocus,” which is said to have originated from people hearing the priest intone “Hoc est corpus Christi” during the consecration and “marveling at the mystery and magic of the moment.” Not being educated in Latin, hocus pocus was what the people thought they were hearing.

The note then observes that, while there no magic going on at our Eucharistic celebrations (and other worship services), there is something in our prayer and worship “that remains at some level incomprehensible,” that “gives us a taste of something dazzling and transcendent.” Not magic, but mystery. Our liturgies remind us “that God came to earth and died and now lives in us.” They point us to a world beyond our own.

I was particularly struck by the end of the note and its contrast of the image of the stage:

Perhaps one of the sure signs that we have worshipped God is that we walk away saying, “I didn’t understand everything that happened there. It must be bigger than my comprehension.” Too much of our worship has boxed God in as if we were going to see a play on Broadway. But in worship we become a part of the play. Though we can’t understand it all, we can come onstage and participate in the divine drama.

I think was so strikes me about that passage is that so often our inability to understand everything is a source of great frustration for us. Frustration would be an understandable reaction if God were like a play that we stand outside of, that we can fully examine in the way I studied a Shakespeare play in college. But if we realize that we a part of something much bigger then ourselves – that we are “a part of the play” so to speak, our inability to fully understand is much easier to (humbly) accept.