Saturday, 9 February 2013

Is there a way in?

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"." 

 "These are just a few of the images we've recorded. And you can see, it wasn't what we thought. There's been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable. It's the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There's 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die". "Serenity". 

 There's an astonishing, horrifying moment in some movies when someone finds themselves encountering a truth far greater, far more shocking and terrible than they had expected. 'The Prestige' is a good example, where genuine magic changes the boundaries of possibility, and consequence. Another is Serenity, where the crew discover the truth about the planet Miranda, where the entire population were exposed to an airborne agent that was supposed to pacify and control, but produced horrors. Such revelations fascinate us even as they shock because they point to a reality we often choose to distract ourselves from seeing. 

Beneath all the futility, all of the pain, all of the often depressing aspects of our lives, there is a shocking 'magic' to our existence, and no amount of pacifying agent (ideas that reduce everything to the trite and inconsequential) can prevent us from being exposed to that reality. Magic and Science, noted C S Lewis, are but two sides of the same coin.This came across to me this week with fresh force as I listened to Dr Connor Cunningham giving an introduction to the subject of grace and nature. In his talk, Dr Cunningham touches on the nature of connection between heaven and earth (what might be termed the 'material' and the 'spiritual') and notes that creatures we think of as 'heavenly', such as angels, are just as much a part of the created order as animals, but we so easily divide one from the other. That is because we so quickly define reality by what we can determine through our senses, so even our most rigorous ways of studying and examining the nature of things is confined to this, but theology (revelation) tells us there is much more going on, much more to unpack, and we need to truly grapple with the fact that we live in a universe (as quantum physics shows) where what we define as the miraculous is not only entirely possible, but required. 

This is because our very natures convey a reality that is shocking, terrifying and astonishing - that we are earthy, but equally, something with a potential grander than any angel - what would we be without the stain of evil? Theology opens a door into the world as it truly is.

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