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Ministry of magic

Scott Boyle | Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I really loved magic when I was little. I wore the same wizard costume every year for Halloween, asked for magicians to perform at my birthday parties and made sure to record all five parts of the two-hour-long specials of “World’s Greatest Magic.” The great majority of my time, however, was spent performing magic tricks. I would buy all sorts of illusions: trick decks, vanishing pennies, magic coloring books and the like. I would then rush home to perform the tricks for the only audience I had – my brothers.

But my brothers were never mystified by magic. If they couldn’t figure out an illusion, they would do everything in their power to discover how I had done it. They would not rest until they could proudly proclaim each illusion’s secret. Sadly, as I grew older, I began to grow tired of my brothers’ insistence on explanations. Eventually, the illusions that had once captured my heart also lost their magic over me. I boxed up all the magic gear I had and put it in my closet.
For a long time, I thought I had given up on magic. It took a classroom and a humble professor to help me to begin to see that magic is much more than illusions performed by magicians in Las Vegas or at my house for birthday parties.

I first walked into Professor David Fagerberg’s class on G.K. Chesterton during the spring semester of my junior year. The semester before, a friend had used the words “transformational” and “class” when describing Professor Fagerberg’s teaching. So, the very next day, I bundled up, braved the blistery cold and found myself in the Theology office signing up for his course. And in the two subsequent semesters, I found myself back in the Theology office, registering my name under his.

I’ve never had (and perhaps will never again have) a professor quite like him. He taught classes of roughly 70 or so students by himself. He never had a TA; he preferred to grade everyone’s papers and exams himself. It wouldn’t fit with his teaching style, since he always made it clear that he learned from us, too.

But he was always more than a professor to me. For me, he was the gatekeeper into G.K. Chesterton’s England and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. His thought and reflection guided me not just to an understanding of their work, but to an understanding of their imaginations and hearts. Spending time playing in their worlds caused me to reexamine mine.

Professor Fagerberg’s analysis of Chesterton and Lewis taught me that perhaps the heart and the imagination are linked and that the imagination is the way to the heart. Anais Nin wrote, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

Using writers like Chesterton and Lewis, Professor Fagerberg reminded me of the magic of wonder, that the most extraordinary of things can be seen in the most ordinary of moments. He reminded me that a childlike imagination can take you places and help you see things you never thought possible.

For C.S. Lewis, it opened portals to magical worlds like Narnia. For me, it allowed me to see that magic existed in my world, too.

G. K. Chesterton reminds us: “Man cannot love mortal things. He can only love immortal things for an instant.” He consistently reminds us that all of our experiences are magical because they remind us of a greater reality. They are tastes of heaven, realities that do not fully exist in the future, but realities that are beginning to be experienced now.

In my eyes, Professor Fagerberg’s greatest lesson came last year on Holy Thursday. He cited Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit” and reminded us of the power of love:
 

“‘What is real?’ asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real … and once you are Real you can’t be made unreal again. It lasts for always.'”

And, as if by magic, it all finally clicked for me. We are the ones who have been loved for a “long, long time,” for eternity, by God. And every day he stepped into the classroom, Professor Fagerberg reminded me and his other students of this truth. And I got the feeling that’s how he felt about us too. And that was the greatest magic of all.

Scott Boyle is a graduate of Notre Dame and intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at sboyle@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.