I'm in the middle of The Magicians by Lev Grossman right now and it's been interesting to see something of a parallel between magic and a Reformed vision for life. I've grown up and worked in institutions that espouse a comprehensive framework for living faithfully in this world. Cue the Abraham Kuyper mantra: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" In some ways, this vision is liberating, but I've talked with many who also feel the burdensome side of it. Accepting the significance of all things means you have to think about everything and do something about it in a faith-informed way--nothing is neutral. Exciting...or exhausting? Especially for students who have caught the vision and then are thrust into a world of few jobs and ballooning debt, it tends to be the latter.
The Magicians is about a smart, nerdy kid who's always been obsessed with magic, but assumed it wasn't real. When he's about to go off to college, he discovers that magic is real and ends up at a magical school. Where it differs from something like Harry Potter is that it's so much more acute in the area of young adult malaise. The main group of friends in the book graduates with a burden of magical responsibility, but they have no idea what to do with their lives, so they move to New York City together and basically start partying their lives away--all the while feeling guilty and restless because they know there's something more. The story has been resonating strongly with conversations we've had about the burden of the Reformed vision, how it's desirable and beautiful, but can also be a ridiculously demanding burden as we simply try to make our way in life. For an example, try reading this passage on two levels, the surface and the Reformed vision parallel:
When he left Brakebills for New York, Quentin had expected to be knocked down and ravished by the sheer gritty reality of it all: going from the jeweled chrysalis of Brakebills to the big, messy, dirty city, where real people led real lives in the real world and did real work for real money. And for a couple of weeks he had been. It was definitely real, if by real you meant non-magical and obsessed with money and amazingly filthy. He had completely forgotten what it was like to be in the mundane world all the time. Nothing was enchanted: everything was what it was and nothing more. Every conceivable surface was plastered with words--concert posters, billboards, graffiti, maps, signs, warning labels, alternate-side parking regulations--but none of it meant anything, not the way a spell did. At Brakebills every square inch of the House, every brick, every bush, every tree, had been marinated in magic for centuries. Here, out in the world, raw unmodified physics reigned, and mundanity was epidemic. It was like a coral reef with the living vital meaning bleached out of it, leaving nothing but an empty colored rock behind. To a magician's eyes, Manhattan looked like a desert.
Grossman even squeezes in a "square inch" as he describes the results of an education that's intended to open up an infinitely meaningful world, but instead imposes a weight of ordinariness that's almost too much to bear. I'm interested to see where the story goes, on many levels, and to reflect more on how to initiate college students into ordinariness with hope and humor.