Star light, start bright,
The first star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.
This is the nursery rhyme I used to say while looking out the small attic window of our house in Nebraska, wishing on a star. For as long as I can remember I’ve believed, in one form or another, in the magic of wishing. I suppose it’s not a stretch I became a pastor, since religion is a bridge between the natural and the supernatural. And there really isn’t a huge distance between a wish and a prayer. Both combine a petition with a desire that is then released into the universe (or into God’s hands).
I just finished reading “The Wishing Year” by Noelle Oxenhandler. I was standing in the aisle dedicated to memoirs at the public library and the title jumped out at me. After reading the back cover I learned of the year-long experiment Noelle embarks on in which she wishes for a man, a house, and spiritual healing. All three of her wishes come true even though Noelle is a self-confessed skeptic. Drawing on her childhood experiences of Catholicism and Judaism, as well as her degree in philosophy and years as a practicing Buddhist, Noelle is quick to point out the flaws and limitations of wishful thinking. I get the sense she doesn’t want anyone to think she's a flake who hasn’t thoughtfully and intellectually plumbed the depths (and history) of wish making. I respect her for this, even if it started to feel like she turned the process of wish making into a hard-won effort in the end (even as she sat in her yard creating a shrine out of money, literally cut up money, meant to attract the last half of her downpayment for a house). I know it all sounds a bit hoakey. But wishing, praying, faith, and hope are not grounded in reason and intellect. They are, at their core, risky enterprises that require a strong dose of courage.
As Noelle shares through her reading and research, the ancients believed it was up to humans to do everything conceivably possible to achieve a desired outcome. But at the end of the day they also knew that some things are simply beyond our control (a big one being weather and how it would impact their crops, although now we know our actions do influence the weather through global warming). It’s a balancing act, Noelle says, between doing what we can toward an outcome we desire, and having the faith to ask for that which feels beyond our control. Noelle, for example, tries online dating in her pursuit of finding a life partner after her divorce. She also writes down everything she desires in a man (even asking that this man would be drawn to her through her writing), places the paper under her mattress, and waits. Then one day she gets a call from a man who loves her writing and wants to enlist her help on a writing project of his own. They meet, she’s smitten, and soon the two are dating. It’s lovely. And just a teensy bit miraculous.
I asked Micah to create a wish list with me after I finished “The Wishing Year.” Using stickers and colored pencils we each gave expression to three wishes. On a single piece of paper we joined our six wishes and then hung them on a wall in our office. For me the most powerful part of wishing is having the courage to name something my rational self knows is far-fetched. This is what separates a wish from a long-term goal. One feels magical, the other like a hell of a lot of work. It’s all in the way I frame it. I’ll still work toward my three wishes, but there’s something encouraging in knowing that I’m not alone. I’ve released them into the universe, into God’s hands.
For what do you wish?