Ritual and vision

When I was a little boy, I was a pagan. Like our ancestors who had lost sight of God, yet saw visions of him in the luminescent peace of a harvest moon, or the spine-rattling fury of a thunderclap, I believed in supernatural things. I believed there were rituals and incantations to invoke them, or to ward them off.

In a quiet wood, treading silently on a carpet of brown pine nettles, I thought if I peered from the corner of my eyes, I might catch sight of a tree spirit, or discover a secret passageway to some other world, a more full and present place.

The life of a child is magic-filled, which is to say that it is filled with ritual and vision. Science and religion press these out of him soon enough, or worse still, pervert them.

People who knew nothing yet of hell taught me what they imagined it to be, and my nightmares began. I believed if I kept the blankets over my head at night, and pulled my knees to my chest, and held myself tight as a drum, the demons wouldn’t get hold of me. Someone taught me about hell, but no one taught me how to pray, and so this was my ritual, and in this I was no different than my pagan forbears, whirling in fear and ecstasy around midnight fires on starlit hillsides.

Ritual and vision permeate our spiritual lives, though often we misperceive them, or embrace one at the expense of the other. The life without magic, the life of the lost child, is staleness and drudgery and death.

I watched light stream in through the windows of the cathedral only days ago, and listened to the scriptures sung like angels must sing the Word, and how the Word might sing Himself to them and to us, and in the hearing of my heart all were present in that space, in that full and present light, the voice of man and of the angels and of God. And my voice was caught up with them, whispering the liturgy with all the gathered witnesses.

That light came pouring down on all we with upturned eyes, and I remembered being in the ocean with my sons, the day becoming twilight, and clouds gathering above us so close you might try and touch them, and behind these clouds a sun so rich and brilliant in its descent that those clouds were like boiling copper. The warm seawater lapped at our skin, it tugged us shoreward and outward, shoreward and outward, landward and homeward.

I floated with my children in that ocean baptizing us in blue and bronze and emerald, and gazed up at a sky so fiercely beautiful that I wanted to weep, and I was overwhelmed by the great power of sea and cloud and sun, and with knowing that we all of us were held safe in that moment, safe in the hands of magnificent adoration, a love that makes the ferocity of this love thudding in my chest for my children like an echo, like fading grass, like dwindling sight.

I stood in that magical place and reached for the children who were closest, just to touch them as I do in church, to have my hands on their heads as God lays hands on me, that whatever magic fills me might fill them, forever and ever amen.

Be ye as a child, says the Word, and I was again, and some days still am, waiting for another glimpse of that coming kingdom, that final peace.


  1. Lindsay

    “Someone taught me about hell, but no one taught me how to pray…”

    This might be the most eloquent statement of the spiritual situation most young people are in today (and when I was younger too). Thanks.

  2. Tony

    Thank you, Lindsay. I should probably qualify it by saying that there were people who tried to teach me the mechanics of prayer. What I’m learning now, especially as I ponder my failings in this area with my own children, is that there is the practice of prayer which we must learn, and this we can only do when someone comes alongside us to show us how.

  3. Lora

    wow. Wow. I am stuck between printing and framing this post, tagging and saving it to my desktop for later, again, or just moving on grateful it went in once. So beautiful and true and full of things I have felt and never said… nor could I have ever said quite like that.
    Thank you. Whoever you are. wow.

Comments are closed.