THE MAGIC KINGDOM
This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. He said, "The LORD came from Sinai, and dawned from Se'ir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran, he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yea, he loved his people; all those consecrated to him were in his hand; so they followed in thy steps, receiving direction from thee, when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob. Thus the LORD became king in Jesh'urun, when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together…"There is none like God, O Jesh'urun, who rides through the heavens to your help, and in his majesty through the skies. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you, and said, Destroy. So Israel dwelt in safety, the fountain of Jacob alone, in a land of grain and wine; yea, his heavens drop down dew. Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you; and you shall tread upon their high places."
(Deuteronomy 33:1-5, 26-29, RSV)
Upon hearing the words “Magic Kingdom,” many of us think about Disney World, which opened in 1971. Cinderella’s Castle sits as the center piece of the Magic Kingdom. The inspiration the Disney castle was Neuschwanstein, a Bavarian Castle built in the Romanesque Revival style of the 19th century. I was dazzled by the place when I visited it the summer of 1995. Walking around and through this beautiful castle conjures up the idea of a Magic Kingdom, though it was only intended for one person, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who reigned from 1864-1886. Unfortunately, Ludwig had very little time to enjoy his magic kingdom, sleeping only 11 nights in his modest 65,000 square foot home before his death. “Ludwig was Richard Wagner’s patron, and many rooms of the castle were inspired by Wagner’s operas. Even so, Wagner never had a chance to visit the castle as he died before its completion.” It’s too bad that neither man had a chance to enjoy the Magic Kingdom of Neuschwanstein, though nowadays over 1.3 million tourists enjoy visiting the castle every year.
My father has a Magic Kingdom, not on par in size with Neuschwanstein of course, but if my Dad had to choose between the Bavarian castle and his acre of land in Tennessee, I’m certain he would take his beloved acre every time. Purchased in 1973, the plot of land includes the house where I grew up from the 4th grade on.
Part of his Magic Kingdom springs from the land itself. Dad has the greenest thumb of anyone I’ve ever known. After he picks figs and strawberries, pears and muscadines, he cooks up tasty jams and jellies, some of which he cans and brings to New York along with homemade bread and butter pickles and a green tomato relish called chow-chow. My favorite is Dad’s homemade blueberry syrup over a steaming stack of pancakes.
Part of Dad’s Magic Kingdom is a woodpile that supplies their cast-iron Franklin stove all winter. The dry, radiating heat from the wood stove chases away the winter chills faster than their modern heat pump. Dad enjoys reminding us that he’s never paid for firewood. With his chainsaw, ax, maul, sledge hammer, wedge, plaid flannel shirt, and obligatory aging pickup truck, Dad is quite the lumberjack, though he did finally give in and purchase a log splitter a couple of years back, which I guess at age 80 is allowed!
The heart of Dad’s Magic Kingdom is his workshop located in a barn-like building. I love the smell of the place—fresh sawdust and machine oil with a hint of drying varnish. The shop is loaded with every woodworking tool you could ever imagine—hand drills and drill presses, circular saws and jigsaws, hammers and chisels, wood glue and epoxy, jars and cans filled with nails and screws, nuts and bolts of every size. The shop overflows with projects at various stages of completion—the wicker seat for a bentwood rocker he’s repairing for a friend, a dry sink he’s refinishing to sell at the antique mall, the stump off last year’s Christmas tree he’s carving into a boat for one of the grandchildren. When you flip on the light switch, a radio starts playing country music, the perfect soundtrack for Dad’s Magic Kingdom. After Matthew was born the Magic Kingdom became even more fun when Dad hung a tire swing from a nearby oak tree.
This acre is Dad’s Garden of Eden, his personal Magic Kingdom where he does what he enjoys most. To me it looks like a lot of work, but to Dad this piece of land is a little slice of heaven.
This notion of finding or creating one’s own Magic Kingdom came from minister and author, Frederick Buechner, in his book The Eyes of the Heart. He writes, “The Magic Kingdom is my haven and sanctuary, the place where I do my work, the place of my dreams and of my dreaming. I originally named it the Magic Kingdom as a kind of joke—part Disneyland, part the Land of Oz—but by now it has become…its name. It consists of the small room you enter through, where the family archives are, the office, where my desk and writing paraphernalia are, and the library, which is by far the largest room of the three…There are such wonderful books in it that I expect people to tremble with excitement, as I would, on entering it for the first time, but few of them do”
Throughout the book, Buechner describes the treasures of his Magic Kingdom, a first edition of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and an original hardback set of The Oz books, framed autographs of his literary heroes including Mark Twain and Henry James. A section of the library is devoted to albums of his favorite music and a large portion to photo albums containing family memorabilia going back generations. Various mementos line the shelves and window sills from the TRUST license plate brought by a stranger who learned that Buechner was once deeply touched by reading TRUST on this license plate when he deeply needed encouragement, to a heart shaped stone he found wedged in a crevice where he stepped ashore on the island of Outer Farne in the North Sea once visited by a character in a Buechner novel. And then there are the photographs of friends and family who, through their sepia eyes, keep an eye on him. Buechner loves this place dearly and for him it is indeed a Magic Kingdom. And out of the history, memories, and dreams of this place, Buechner gives us profound insights into life and death and faith, often in dialogue with one of the loved ones staring at him from the bookshelves.
His conversation with Naya, his long-dead maternal grandmother, winds through the book, with Buechner, at the time in his seventies, asking her about the afterlife. Naya says, “‘To be alive is of course always to keep moving through time…as day follows day follows day like circus elephants holding each other’s tails. You move from one time to another time to another time until finally your time runs out. That is what life is all about. But you asked me about death…Once you’ve stepped off the streetcar,’ she says, ‘you don’t keep moving on in the same way. It’s more like moving in…like Mr. Edison moving closer and closer to some new discovery, some revelation that will open up a whole new world, a whole new way of understanding everything. Or so you hope. I’m sorry I make it sound so uninteresting. It is really very interesting indeed.’ ‘You make it sound lonely,’ I say. ‘Do you ever see people you used to know, people you loved?’ ‘My dear boy,’ she says. ‘Words like see don’t do very well on this side of things. But yes, they are here. They are part of what, ever so slowly, we move deeper and deeper toward, or into, or through—whatever the preposition is. They are part of what we begin little by little to understand at last’. I almost don’t dare ask it, but then I do. ‘Is Daddy there?’ ‘They all are, she says.’”
Buechner’s Magic Kingdom is a place where he finds wisdom and insight. As for us, sometimes even when reading the most familiar passage or listening to the most familiar piece of music our hearts are opened to something we never experienced before. This happened to Buechner once when reading a passage from the New Testament Book of Ephesians. He recalls, “St. Paul, or whoever it was, wrote to the Ephesians that he always remembered them in his prayers, asking God, among other things, to give them ‘a spirit of revelation in the knowledge of him,’ which is just about what you would expect him to ask. But then he added…a phrase that I for one would not have expected and maybe for that reason never even noticed until it jumped off the page to me the other day—‘having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.’” Buechner says that it was these words, this phrase that he most needed to find at that moment in his life, as he has found so many other words and places just what he most needed them. For him, it was an encounter with the Holy just like seeing the TRUST license plate and finding the heart shaped stone by the North Sea.
Buechner reflects, “I have seen with the eyes of my heart the great hope to which [God] has called us, but out of some shyness or diffidence I rarely speak of it, and in my books I have tended to write about it for the most part only obliquely, hesitantly, ambiguously…For fear of overstating, I have tended especially in my nonfiction books to understate…But maybe beneath that lies the fear that if I say too much about how again and again over the years I have experienced holiness—even here I find myself drawing back from saying God or Jesus—as a living, healing, saving presence in my life, then I risk being written off as some sort of embarrassment by most of the people I know and like. For the most part it is only in my novels that I have allowed myself to speak unreservedly of what with the eyes of my heart I have seen…To that extent I have dared risk telling what I have experienced of God, but to live the kind of life that you would expect to flow from it passes beyond risk into a kind of holy recklessness that is beyond me. If it is true about God, then, as my father said, there is nothing to worry about, not even death, not even life, not even losing the ones you love most in the world because as Naya told me, no one is ever really lost. If it is true, you would live out your days as one who continues to be afraid of many things, but in the deepest, most final sense is without fear. That is a level of faith beyond my reach, but at least once in my life I caught a glimpse of it. I was flying somewhere one day when all of a sudden the plane ran into such a patch of turbulence that it started to heave and buck like a wild horse. As an uneasy flyer under even the best of circumstances, I was terrified that my hour had come, and then suddenly I wasn’t….[I remembered] the line from Deuteronomy ‘underneath are the everlasting arms,’ and for a few minutes I not only understood what it meant, but felt in my nethermost depths that without a shadow of a doubt it was true, that underneath, undergirding, transcending any disaster that could possibly happen, those arms would be there to save us if my worst fears were realized…What is magic about the Magic Kingdom is that if you look at it through the right pair of eyes it points to a kingdom more magic still that comes down out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The one who sits upon its throne says, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and the streets of it are of gold like unto clear glass, and each of its gates is a single pearl”
And so, dear friends, with God’s help may the eyes of our hearts be opened to find or create a Magic Kingdom, a place where we find holiness or holiness finds us, where we are truly at home until we reach our eternal Home at the last. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
June 25, 2017
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
We thank you, Eternal God, for accompanying us in ways seen and unseen, along the winding path of our lives. Remind us that your constant presence makes our lives a sacred journey. Open our eyes to the pivotal people and experiences that helped make us who we are today. For the ways such moments were painful and full of sorrow, we ask your healing. For the ways such moments were wonderful and full of joy, we give you thanks. Let us never underestimate your ability to speak to us through the events of our lives, whether we realize it at the time or not. Rather let us look back at the significant times and the seemingly insignificant ones too, for how we learned and grew and changed, learning more about ourselves and life and you through it all.
Through your holy name, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, we pray. AMEN.
 The Eyes of the Heart by Frederick Buechner, New York: Harper Collins, 1999, pp. 1-2
 Ibid. pp. 22-23
 Ibid. p. 165
 Ibid. pp. 180-183