The Magic Kingdom is a long, very personal essay I wrote in 2003, which I am posting here in installments, without re-reading or editing (because, once I start, I would edit it into a different essay
Part I The Magic Kingdom I–The Varieties of Magic
Part II The Magic Worlds of Art and Nature.
III Deep Magic from Before the Dawn of Time.
IV The Magic Kingdom of Prayer
The Ones He Calls
For the Son of Man has not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).
They shove the abashed woman in front of the rabbi. The cacophony resounds: “Moses,” “law,” “adultery” “stone such women,”“now what do you say?” Her hope fades as, through the disheveled curtain of her hair, she studies his strong, quiet face. Pure goodness. He would not contradict Moses. But, while the questions echo, he is silent. Then, she hears him speak, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” She flinches as she waits. Waits. And hears footsteps like a departing dream. The rabbi had found the one spring which could release the trapped woman. And wouldn’t his words, his forgiveness, the new hope he offered have been to her the sweetest magic she could imagine? She had been a caterpillar in a ring of fire (as Martin Luther described grace). And he was the Siegfried who risked that ring of fire to rescue her.
And isn’t there a wonder and mystery in God’s mercy? That he is more than an equal opportunity lover, but, in fact, “came to seek and to save what was lost:” the cranky, the lazy, the petty, those for whom memories of the past are an embarrassment, the “nasty people,” Lewis calls them. This is the breathtaking good news: that when I know the core of his calling is love, but am so annoyed with Roy that I can barely bear to look at him; when I play truant in the magic kingdom of books and poetry, and my house goes to pieces and I feel I have failed my children; when a tidbit of gossip passes my lips, and I remember I had resolved never to do that again; the moments when I feel that prayer now, opening a Bible now, would be hypocrisy, for I am humbled by an outburst of temper; a hot-headed e-mail; a spontaneous exaggeration reaching off the pages of creative nonfiction (where it is perhaps permissible) to the nonfiction my listeners believe they are listening to (or I hope they do)– it is when I have blown it that I have qualified myself to be the sinner he came to call to repentance, and, so, the Great Physician pays me a house call; the shepherd, leaving the ninety-nine sheep, takes up his staff, and trudges off to find me; a lamp is lit and the house searched for me; the father, forgetting all else, scans the horizon for me; and the man whose gaze I am ashamed to meet offers me a dazzling way to be saved from my enemies and from the hands of all who hate me. A God for the prodigals who have squandered all in foolish living, for the sick in body and mind and soul and spirit, that is indeed good news.
The Ones He Chooses
And when the King, the Lord of glory, came to dwell among us, who was counted worthy to follow him, to be the first Christians?
* he who, with the insight God lavishes on the unworthy, early recognized the Messiah, dominant, cocksure Peter of erratic insight, whom Jesus fiercely rebuked when he recoiled at his friend becoming a paradoxical suffering King whose magic kingdom was not of this world, who was draped in royal robes with mockery and great laughter, whose crown was of thorns, whose throne was the cross, and whose insignia was his nail-scarred hands.
* those who were fiercely competitive in the noble enterprise of establishing the kingdom of whose nature they were uncertain; always enviously trying to identify the favorite, the greatest.
* Those who continually forgot his vivid miracles, and were continually rebuked for their lack of faith. But though they disapproved of his approach to money, power, or people, they loved him. “Let us also go that we may die with him,” Thomas says, though in the hour of terror, not one of them dared to, not yet.
To these men he walked up, looked into their eyes, and said, “Follow me,” and they rose, leaving nets and tax booth, and walked behind him–becoming, by that act, Christians. And he comes up to us, people indubitably in process, amid the muck and misery and marvel of life, looks at us, and says, “Come, follow me.” And as, with an ardent, “Oh yes!” we make our first changes, we become Christians. And are we, by those words, instantly transformed, utterly transfigured? No more than they were, though they were with him all day, all night, loving him despite their ambition, pride, doubt, and impatience. The long years it takes to become a writer, a mathematician, but in the wideness of God’s mercy, all it takes to bear the tremendous badge of a Christian is our “yes,” our tottering steps. And though we may trip and stumble and stray, he steadies us, and leads us on, transforming us by the slow-release seed of his life within us, as potent and generative as that seed too small to be seen by the naked eye, shed in an ecstatic night we cannot identify, that made the children we adore.
In moments of total surrender and loving trust, I have decided to follow Jesus 100%. And between commitments, how much has my commitment actually grown? A percentage point, perhaps more, if it was a major renunciation. How disastrous in the world’s eyes! I see these cruel graphs in stores–Employee goals: a minimum of a hundred percent efficiency and I think of the ones he chose: Peter who declared, “I will go to the death with you” and believed it too, but who, in the darkness, by a coal fire, in a chiaroscuro scene that Rembrandt and Caravaggio loved, “never knew” the Jesus being degraded by his enemies–but whose bitter tears led to a bitter-sweet reconciliation at dawn, by another coal fire. The Lord of Glory accepts us just as we are, even as he molds us into what he (and between gasps, we) wants us to be.
I read of Francis Schaeffer’s “plant-throwing, pot-smashing temper” in a profile in Christianity Today. And he was one of the most influential Christians of the twentieth century. Had he crossed over into Christ’s magic Kingdom? I don’t doubt it–for that is the magic of the
. It deigns to reign in jars of clay. In his son Franky Schaeffer’s autobiographical novel, Magic Kingdom , the evangelical leader growls dangerously, “Elsa, I wish you wouldn’t interrupt my quiet time with the Lord.” “You’ve just had your quiet time, and you are still so irritable with me,” my husband observes plaintively. I have made similar observations of his spiritual life, less temperately. Portofino
In the early years of our marriage, we knew the wild fire of sin when our inherited tempers were activated and the air was alive with identified flying objects–a camera, a vase–yes, still nonfiction, unfortunately, and the next morning the shame of trying not to meet the neighbors’ eyes (they heard, they didn’t hear, they heard, they…) as, embarrassed at the incongruity, we got into the van to go to church, knowing what we would think if we had heard what they heard (oh please, didn’t hear!) and then saw them go to church.
 “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer, Christianity Today, March 3rd, 1997
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