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Rough magic

Maybe I went too far mixing V8 and Pop Rocks, but life isn't always sweet.
By Meg Barnhouse

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cauldron (Sean Locke/iStockphoto)

(Sean Locke/iStockphoto)

I remember “Boo at the UU.” Cool night, velvet dark. Pushing your way through spider webs to get through the front door of the church, you’re greeted by comfortingly scary witches and pirates, wizards, cats, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. The big room is filled with fishing games, a cake walk, and a gigantic spinner where you take your chances on gains or losses, and the basement becomes the “Tunnel of Terror.” I have no idea what is down there because just the name gives me the heebie-jeebies. The psychic surgery room, the fortuneteller, and spells and potions are down the hall. Most years I was the fortuneteller, because my aunt, the Episcopal priest-psychiatrist, taught me to read palms and tarot cards when I was a teenager.

One year, though, I was put in charge of the spells and potions. I gathered my materials: Amazon rain water, rainbow juice, and liquid sunlight (herbal teas in various colors); wizard spit (honey water); dragon’s blood (V8 juice); bat drops (tiny chocolate chips); lizard tongues (broken flat pieces of pink gum); eyes of newt (sprinkles); vampire blood (chocolate syrup); alchemist’s gold (caramel syrup); and various shades of powdered Jell-O and Pop Rocks that would make a potion bubble and fizz. I was dressed up, all my materials were laid out, I had helpers dressed as wizards, and we were ready. The doors opened and parents and kids came in asking for potions.

“What do you want it for?” I asked. Usually it took them a long time to think of an answer. I wondered why someone would come in to ask for a potion when they didn’t know what they wanted it for. Did they simply crave a passing experience, a sweet drink? This was magic we were talking about. It should be taken seriously.

They rose to the occasion.

“I want to run fast,” one said.

“Done! You need some confidence, some persistence for practice.” I was adding visible and invisible ingredients to a liquid sunlight tea as I spoke. After giving it a final stir with a tiny wand (coffee stirrer), I handed it to one of the wizards who muttered over it for a moment, then delivered it with a flourish to the child.

“I want to be a fairy princess!” Eye of newt, bat drops, alchemist’s gold, and fizzy Pop Rocks in wizard spit. “Eeeeeuw!” she said, but drank it up.

A dad said, “I want courage.” Well, what would you have done? Dragon’s blood with Jell-O and Pop Rocks. It was awful looking. He drank it down. I think he already had courage.

People complained about how awful some of the potions tasted. “What do you want?” I asked, with what I hoped was charm. “Cheap grace? Pretty magic? Magic is rough! Change is hard. If you want something badly enough you may have to do something scary, drink something yucky. Sometimes you get liquid sunlight with sprinkles, but other times it’s V8 with blue Jell-O and Pop Rocks.”

What happened was that I was never asked to be potions mistress again. The next year all the potions tasted good and people didn’t even have to pony up with what they wanted to have happen in their lives.

This makes me think of the people who describe Mother Nature as sweet and nurturing, taking care of all the little creatures with a warm and cinnamon-scented hand, or those who say they just knew there had to be a God when they saw the dolphins swimming at sunset. I don’t know how ignoring the tough side of nature will help a person through the things church is supposed to help with, or how a dolphins-swimming-at-sunset faith will sustain a person through the rough changes that get slung into his or her life like ninja throwing-stars.

Maybe I went too far with the V8 and Pop Rocks. Usually I’m a very nice minister, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I pretended that our faith wasn’t demanding, that the right relationship was easy, or that facing change is a pleasant walk on the beach.

The beginning of my most recent transition involved a choice to move my household, say goodbye to dear friends, and live far from my children. Growing asks a lot of us. It takes courage, determination, spiritual practice, strong partnership, and the knowledge that life can be difficult even when you’re doing exactly the right thing. Various potions have helped along the way: love mixed with patience, effort, longing, and peace. Liquid sunlight, green Jell-O, lizard tongue, and wizard spit.

Bottoms up.

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