This is the text from my reflection today at church, in a service led by my friends D and Diane, called Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.
When my daughter Zoe was in second grade, her friends all started reading Harry Potter. I was thrilled, because I am a serious fan. I was one of those people who would go to the bookstore at midnight to get my hands on each of the seven books as soon as it was released. So when Zoe decided she wanted to read the books aloud with us, I was even more excited. For the past few years, we have read Harry Potter at bedtime almost every night and we have had so much fun exploring the wizarding world together.
This past summer, in the midst of the sixth book–Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince–I rediscovered Felix Felicis. Also known as liquid luck, Felix Felicis is famously tricky to concoct. It is banned from use before athletic or academic competitions. During the first potions class of the school year, Professor Slughorn offers a vial of Felix Felicis to the student who can correctly brew that day’s assignment in his or her cauldron. With the help of notes written in the margin of his secondhand textbook, Harry unexpectedly succeeds and wins the prize.
It turns out that Felix Felicis conveys to its user something closer to courage than simply luck. The first time Harry almost uses it is when his best friend Ron is plagued by self-doubt before a big quidditch match in which he’s supposed to play keeper. Harry only pretends to pour some of the potion in Ron’s pumpkin juice at breakfast, but that’s all that’s required for Ron to gain the confidence he needs to play the best match of his life.
Harry actually drinks some of the Felix Felicis to help him convince Professor Slughorn to reveal a memory that will enable Harry to make progress toward his defeat of Lord Voldemort, who, if you haven’t read Harry Potter or seen the movies, is the bad guy.
As soon as the potion hits his bloodstream, Harry heads out to accomplish his mission. What he immediately decides to do seems completely counterintuitive, but he feels certain it’s the right thing to do. “I have a good feeling about this,” he says to his incredulous friends, and of course it turns out he’s right.
Reading these books a second time, this time as a parent and most recently in such a fractious political climate, I was struck by the appeal of not just having a bottle of Felix Felicis at my disposal (and it’s hard to come by—the potion takes six months to brew) but wondered what it would be like to live my life every day as if someone had poured a few drops of Felix Felicis into my juice in the morning.
What would it be like to be assured that whatever decisions I made would turn out to be good ones? I’m not asking for the kind of luck that turns up a winning lottery ticket or makes me famous. I mean Felix Felicis that guarantees courage and confidence in the small moments—the ability to live what you believe and not shrink back from your values because it’s a little scary or inconvenient or unpopular.
At the beginning of this service I read my statement of belief. I wrote it not long after the election, in the covenant group that D and I facilitate together. She had suggested that articulating what where we stand, especially in the face of bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia, and just plain meanness, would help us stand up to those oppressive forces. I was surprised at how empowering it felt to write, and speak, what I believe.
Where my desired dose of Felix Felicis comes in is embodying those beliefs every day.
For example, extending generosity without condition or expectation of reciprocity. Not wondering what will happen with my contribution or whether a person or cause is going to do the right thing with what I have freely given. Not concerned with whether I get a thank you.
For example, showing kindness not just to people I love, but to strangers. A couple weeks ago I was sitting in this sanctuary during our standing outside the season service, seated behind someone who was weeping. I had seen this person at church before, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t even know her name, but I really wanted to put my hand on her shoulder or rub her back. But I didn’t. I worried maybe she wanted to be left alone, maybe she would jump back in alarm when a complete stranger tried to touch her. I agonized about whether or not to try to comfort her. In the end, she turned around to comfort my friend with whom I was sitting, who was also quietly crying. I immediately saw from her smile and her action that she would have welcomed my touch.
For example, turning to wonder instead of accusation when I don’t understand a person or situation. It’s a hard world out there right now, but it doesn’t get any softer if I vilify people whose beliefs and actions I don’t understand. Especially if I’m accusing those people of doing the exact same thing.
When my husband and I got married, in his toast to us, my dad talked about my husband’s and my commitment to tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of repairing the world. We are both still at it, with a far greater sense of urgency now.
It is easy to wonder if I am doing enough. When this worry bubbles up to the surface, I have to remind myself that tikkun olam for me is also raising two children to be kind and generous. Tikkun olam is creating and giving myself to the many communities of which I am a part. Tikkun olam is doing something nice for myself so I have the energy to care for others. Tikkun olam is being able to laugh with my husband when things are not going well.
My bottle of Felix Felicis would help me brave and openhearted in my efforts to heal the world. I know I will make mistakes, I will question my decisions, I will fall short. But just a shot of Felix Felicis could remind me, in the face of what seems like utter powerlessness, that I do have the power of my beliefs, and the strength to live them. What would a few drops of Felix Felicis do for you?