When Tara Isabella Burton Ran Out of Magic

A remarkable essay by Tara Isabella Burton appeared last week on Catapult entitled “I Spent […]

David Zahl / 10.11.19

A remarkable essay by Tara Isabella Burton appeared last week on Catapult entitled “I Spent Years Searching for Magic—I Found God Instead” in which the esteemed religion journalist (and novelist) charts how her lifelong fascination with magic led her to Christianity. She covers a lot of ground, and the sum is a conversion narrative par excellence. But it’s more than that, too. In fact, it cheapens the impact to excerpt only the climatic portion but hey, if that gets someone to click over, you’ll thank me later. Oh and a maenad is a follower of Dionysus, a “raving one,” which is how Burton identified herself before the bottom fell out. Again, it’s quite a tale:

The odd thing about becoming a maenad—as opposed to making a Faustian bargain, say—is that you’re not risking your soul for anything concrete. You’re not asking for riches or worldly power or for one specific person to love you. You’re risking your soul to feel something, to feel the certainty that the world is enchanted, to know that magic exists at all.

I wanted to outrun the Nothing. There was nothing I would not have sacrificed—friendships, relationships, the blood from the heel of my foot—to get it. I sacrificed all of myself. I emptied myself out. I hit bottom, in a thousand different ways, and got what I wanted, in a thousand more, and then, somewhere in the middle of my seeking a vague and generic sense of Poetry, I found a specific one.

One rooted not in a vague sense that magic was real and that the world could at any time be an enchanted one, but in a concrete sense that at one particular place, at one particular time, the laws of nature had been suspended…

The faith I found proclaimed a sanctified world, and a redeemed one—an enchanted world, if you want to call it that—but one where meanings were concrete. It offered me not just a sense of emotional intensity, but a direction in which to channel it. It contained magic not for the sake of magic, but rather miracle for the sake of goodness. God died and came back from the dead not because magic was real, but because love was stronger than an unmagical world.

Where everything pointed to this one thing, which is that at some point God was made man, and died, and came back from the dead—which is an utterly absurd thing to say if you are not Christian, and even if you are. Fridays mean that Christ died and Christ is risen and that Christ will come again. So does rose quartz. So does a full moon.

It is a story not just about Not-Nothing, but about Something. It is a story not just about the possibility of a world with meaning in it, but a story about a world where the meaning is, quite specifically, and utterly fully, love. It is a world that is predicated upon the love of a creator who has built a good world, and who—when sin afflicts it—comes into that world, in all his vulnerability, in all his mortality to save it. Love birthed the world; love redeems it; love sanctifies it. Our very humanity, our very existence, is contingent upon it.

Read the whole thing here.