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The Magic of Simple

pick a cardDo you want to know the secret to some of the best magic tricks? They may not be as difficult as they appear. Some of the most effective tricks are, in fact, incredibly simple and do not involve complex systems of strings and magnets, trap-doors and assistants. In fact sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most time-honoured of illusions involve nothing more than a simple handkerchief, or one borrowed coin, a deck of cards or one red sponge-ball.

One of the first tricks that I did for the children at Holy Cross involved a visual illustration of Jesus changing water into wine. Without disclosing the secret of the effect, allow me to say that this is a fairly easy routine. (You can watch the routine Here).  Still, during coffee afterwards, many parishioners came to me with theories of how this effect worked. One would suggest that the solution was ‘a string, a tea bag, and a piece of cardboard!’ Another questioned the legitimacy of the water I used.

This dynamic occurs for all magicians. When engaging with a magic trick, people love to offer their theories of how the effect works, yet often the explanations offered are much more complicated than the reality; some are downright impossible. The secret for all magic tricks is this: the wonder and amazement that we find in the midst of an illusion lies not in its complexity or difficulty, but in its simplicity.

This isn’t to suggest that there is no complexity in magic. Of course there is, and by no means am I attempting to downplay the amount of time and practice that goes in to executing a good illusion. There are sleights and movements which take magicians years to master.  Yet even in the places where complexity does occur, this principle still holds true. The complex movements of sleight of hand are not supposed to look complex. The magician does not telegraph the difficulty of the movements. The movement should not look arduous or tried.  It should feel simple, free, and easy. Even in the more sophisticated routines, that do involve the classic elements of smoke and mirrors, the true skill of the magician lies in making it appear simple. In the end, the aim of the magician is to lead the spectator to a place of simple entertainment. The enjoyment of a magic trick only increases when both magician and spectator adopt a principle of simplicity.

I sometimes wonder if we make the things of God way too complicated. We try to develop an intricate theology that will explain every permutation and variable in the universe. Like the spectator to the magician, we develop intricate explanations for the ways in which God works in the world, often forgetting that doing this will only rob us of our wonderful enjoyment of God. I wonder, is this a search for explanation or a search for control? After all, if i can figure how the trick is done, then I am neither fooled nor left questioning. Furthermore, if I uncover the intricacy of a trick, it remains that I will be able to predict what will happen the next time that trick occurs.

Is the desire to define each and every movement of God an attempt to make God predictable?

Yet God is not in the game of being predictable. God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, rings the old Gospel tune. There is, of course, complexity to the workings of God in the universe. I’m not suggested that God’s ways are by any means simple. There is a depth to the mind of God that finite minds will never penetrate. God ways, after all, are not our ways, his thoughts beyond our own. Yet there is a sense of simplicity as well. When God declares God’s love for us, it isn’t because we adhere to some intricate system of spiritual strings and magnates. God loves us because he has chosen to love us – it’s that simple. When God declares his forgiveness of sins, it is not up to us to ascertain the dynamics of ‘true repentance’; we are called to simply accept the forgiveness offered to us through the cross.

Like a spectator before a magician, our enjoyment of God’s ways in the world, and in our lives, only increases as we enter into the discipline of simplicity. Now, just as ones’ enjoyment of a magic trick that will naturally lead them to ponder how it could be done, we may ponder,meditate, and strive to know God’s ways. There is no harm to this; in fact we are called to do so. This endeavour, however, does not take away from the call to remain humble before the one who is greater than we are. We accept his presence; we accept his gifts; we follow his leading, and we do so knowing that the final production will be one of wonder and amazement. It is this act of unrestricted acceptance that leads us into joy and wonder. The full embracing of faith lies in simply receiving God’s presence as it occurs before us; it lies not in understanding all the ins and outs.

Simply receive. Simply accept. Simply enjoy.

What are some ways that you have tried to make your faith too complex? When and how have your learned the value of simplicity?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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