Mediating Magic into Awe

By Phillip Garside

Parents of a young child feel the joy of active magical thinking over the holidays. This type of thinking is one reason children have a more direct relationship with God than adults, to whom God or even God’s very existence can become hidden. As a child matures, magical thinking confronts the hard structures that the adult world has fabricated. We tend to train it out of children.

I am here to assure the reader that the magic does not have to end with the season or even with childhood.

Clever parents navigate child development so that children can engage their environment realistically, yet not lose a sense of wonder and reverence for mystery. This requires long-term strategy. Thus, when Santa Clause is first sincerely questioned, my spouse and I give vague answers concerning “Spirit of Christmas.” This lets the child believe magically until they are ready to adapt otherwise. As the child matures and probes, we subtly connect that spirit to the general spirit of love. Ultimately, it is no shock when they slowly learn that “there is no Santa Claus” because they retain the most important thing – the awe of transcendent love made real in an immanent and tangible way.

Though the Christmas season is over, we don’t have to neglect our children’s gift of magical thinking or its pedagogical potential. Parents can choose the values, virtues and mysteries they want their children to experience and use magical thinking to develop them.

For example, as you witness for your children by acts of charity toward an indigent, it is not crazy to let them know that you did that act because the indigent “is Jesus.” This is less of a lie than telling a child some stranger in the mall is Santa Claus. Jesus told us that when we do for the least, we do for him.

Moreover, your child’s magical thinking will allow for a particular awe of charity unmatched in the adult world. As the child grows, he or she will become aware that a beggar is not “Jesus” the same way that the incarnation walked the Earth two millennia ago.

But, like adults who experience the awe of Christmas in a new way, children so trained can experience the awe of charity at more profound levels when they become adults. The magic of experiencing and expressing love does not have to end with the Christmas season. It should continue in manyfold ways throughout Ordinary Time and the entire year.

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