By Eric Sandhusen
So goes the musical question posed by The Lovin’ Spoonful, and throughout our history, the Ethical Culture movement has sought to be an alternative to magical thinking in our personal beliefs and social actions. We recognize and honor the fact that many people are motivated to good acts by beliefs that may be supernatural, but we become rightly wary when those beliefs are used to justify oppression, or serve as substitute for rational discourse, or even limit the flourishing of ideas.
Still, I enjoy a good magic show. For certain, the magician has not really produced a bird out of thin air, or disassembled and reassembled their charming assistant. My appreciation is for the artistry of the illusion, and the feeling that perhaps there is a place where the laws of nature somehow don’t apply, and where reason may momentarily be suspended. There is real pleasure in that dissonance between what I see and what I know, and learning the reality behind the mystery somehow diminishes it.
Experiencing the magic
Which brings me to the point of this column. We don’t have to believe in the magic to experience it! I know this because I felt it at two recent Gatherings. The first was our Human Rights Day Celebration, which was marked with dance, poetry, music, art, delicious treats donated by Athens Bakery in Teaneck, and a lovely blessing by Owl Stephen Smith, of the Ramapo-Lenape tribe. Our desire to advance social values should never prevent us from seeing the beauty of this world we have. The Gathering also allowed us to recognize how pride of place, nationality, or identity can build bridges of appreciation, instead of nationalistic aggression or exceptionalism. For me, it was an experience of beauty and joy that is fundamental to our human experience and our Ethical Culture community.
The second magical experience was the Winter Festival, an evening of lights, food, music, conversation, and realignment with the rhythm of the seasons, and the seasons of our lives. I saw the same sense of wonder in the eyes of a young girl as in the smile of an older woman, brought together in a meetinghouse made magical through the miracle of duct tape, sugar cookies, and human imagination. Did that little girl really believe in the cookie fairy? Surely. Do I? All I know is that the joy I saw in her added to my own, and I came away with a feeling I could never create by myself.
Giving meaning to our community
As the song says, “the magic’s in the music, and the music’s in me.” When the magic and the mystery and the merriment come together as they have the past two weeks, they create something much greater–they give meaning to our community and to our lives and motivate us to make more of, and the most of, these moments.
May you be well and warm this (humanist) holiday season, and enjoy all good things in the New Year!
Eric Sandhusen is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.