The past year has been a season of change. In these waning years of my fourth decade, I’ve watched my father decline in health and die. We’ve closed our older daughter’s high school years and inaugurated her college career. Our younger daughter has blossomed into a distinctive creative force with ideas of her own. My wife is exploring new opportunities and new challenges that stretch her gifts and skills. And as I ponder what’s next for us all, I find myself looking back, reflecting a lot about how God has shaped my spiritual life.
Some people have spiritual lives characterized by ecstasy; others by struggle. Some are shaped mostly by peace and quietude, others by a burning desire for action. There are those who experience God most profoundly through keen intellectual precision and there are others who feel God’s presence in the warmth of community. Over the years, as I’ve reflected and pondered and prayed, I’ve come to conclusion that the defining characteristic of my spiritual life is the experience of enchantment.
Enchantment happens when you lose yourself in the reading of a great story and you hunger for the tale to be true, for it to be a portal to another, better realm. Enchantment hides behind the eyes of every dog, the gymnastics of every squirrel, the dance of every bird, hinting that they are trying, whether consciously or not, to communicate something just out of our hearing. Enchantment undergirds every work of art (at least every good one), suggesting a subject bigger, far bigger, than is actually conveyed in the medium. Enchantment lingers in the silences between the notes of music. Enchantment whispers to us from the spaces between the stars.
Do you see the child at Christmas, eyes agape at the tree that will forever in their memory be larger than it actually was? That is enchantment. Fast forward 25 years or so to that child cradling her newborn and pondering the multiplicities of possibilities ahead of that child. Enchantment. Fast forward another 45 years to an aged grandparent, long past the years of having anything to prove, laughing with abandon at the music box embedded in a teddy bear. Enchantment again.
Enchantment draws us into pursuit of a beloved – whether that beloved is another person or a fascinating subject or a vocation. And somewhere along the way, we discover that what we were pursuing wasn’t the real object of our chase, but rather something else. Or rather, Someone else. God. The living, eternal God. The One in whom we live and move and have our being. As Augustine prays to God in the beginning of his Confessions: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
Here’s the surprising thing: the discovery that God is the true Object of our pursuit doesn’t lessen the love we had for the original object, but rather it enriches it. We can stop begging for our beloved persons or objects or pursuits to complete us. We find our completeness from God, and we are freed to enjoy everything else as good gifts from the God we call Father.
For it seems to be the way of enchantment, when rightly oriented, to expand our horizons, to help us see that the world is full of enchantment, for the world is full of invitation to pursue The One, the Craftsman whose fingerprints are left all over creation, the Poet who spoke the world into existence, the Beloved who gave us the love letter we call The Bible so that we might know Him in truth.
I’ve encountered this experience of enchantment in many places: nature, the arts, study, athletics, just to name a few. And in all of them, I found that these things were but signposts on the pilgrimage to knowing God. Whenever I’ve tried to pursue enchantment for its own sake, just for the feeling, it slips through my fingers. But when I forget me, and pursue something for it’s own sake, then I find hints of God’s craftsmanship and design. And these hints draw me ever back to the disciplines of solitude, prayer, scripture study so that I might pursue God directly. And then in the pursuit I become more sensitized and aware of His fingerprints on creation, which leads me to hunger for more of Him.
So I’m going to explore this experience of enchantment. I have pages and pages of notes as I’ve been thinking about it this past year – where I’ve encountered enchantment and what it means. We’ll go from the starry night sky to the streets of Jerusalem.
But I need your help.
Does my description hit home for you? Have you ever experienced anything like what I’m talking about? What questions does it stir in you. What are your comments? Your ideas? Your observations? Please join the conversation and share your insight and understanding. Thanks so much.