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Guest post: Mark Townsend – The Wizard Within

May 22nd, 2009

The Wizard Within

Mark Townsend is an ex-Vicar, Magician and Author

When Philip invited me to contribute to this weblog my initial response (apart from feeling deeply honoured) was, ‘Who on earth am I to be offering something to such a wonderful series of articles, essays and ideas?’ But then I remembered what I’ve tried to teach in pulpits, lecture halls and retreat houses across the land – be yourself and trust in your inner voice.

So here’s something on that theme – listening to the inner voice (the wizard within):

What could be more wonderful than a life of sharing your most magical experiences and deepest longings with the world? What could be more satisfying than a daily workout at the PC, where you allow your creative inner voice to make meaning out of all the mess and muddle of life? What could be more therapeutic than to be still and listen to the (usually silent) ‘wiser you’ as he or she gently whispers in your ear?

For me writing is a natural and necessary part of who I am. I do not consider myself to be a particularly good writer, but am most definitely a passionate and committed writer. I write because it is the place where I can talk to myself. I write because I am always talking inside my head, and the computer keyboard is the gymnasium through which I can release some of that mental activity. I write because I have discovered that the often confused chatterings within my head are almost miraculously sifted and sorted as they eventually find their way from my brain, through my fingers, to the screen in front of my eyes.

But what led me to the writing life in the first place? Well, the real story begins about seventeen years ago when I began keeping a spiritual journal. It was really just a scruffy old diary into which I placed any experience that I felt was meaningful or important. I was, at that time in my life, preparing for ordained ministry within the Church of England, and such journals where encouraged (I will come back to this).

I was finally ordained in 1996 and obviously had to write many thousands of words every week as part of my job: letters to the parish magazine, sermons, addresses and all sorts of other things. Over time I began to realise how much writing helped me as a person. Take, for example, my sermons. I began to see them not as me giving text book answers to questions no-one is asking but as a public conversation with myself, a dialogue within my own head on which the congregation is allowed to eavesdrop. I started to see what a privilege and opportunity it was, and my weekly periods of preparation became wonderful adventures where I could explore each and every question, problem and topic, with a view to sharing the results on Sundays. Often my talks would end up giving the congregations more question than answers but, because I was prepared to be totally open about my doubts as well as my beliefs, folk warmed to them.

A turning point for me was in about 2001 when I was asked to lead a Retreat at Winford Manor in Somerset. I came up with a retreat based on the theme of human failure and how to look at our bumps, bruises and brokenness creatively. As a magician I decided to use illusions and visual tricks as metaphorical object lessons for my teaching. I wanted the attendees to be somehow re-enchanted and plugged back in to the deep feelings of magic and wonder they would have had as children yet probably rarely experienced as adults. The title for the Retreat ended up The Gospel of Falling Down, and it was this that formed the heart of my first book (of the same title). In fact I had stumbled across something that has become a hall mark of my ministry: the combination of the theme of brokenness and the experience of real magic. I am passionate about magic and I am passionate about enabling people to live with and even love their imperfections.

Part of my preparation for the Retreat involved re-reading my entire spiritual journal to see how much my understanding had changed over the years, but as I read it something shocked me. There was a very hurt, angry and often darn right whining voice within my words, and it was my voice. The voice was extremely self-critical, negative, and highly defensive. It was as if I thought the whole world was against me. There were huge chunks of self-flagellation: “Oh God why am I such a little sh*t?” And, “Why do people hate me so much?”

A few days later I decided to read it again and this time I detected something else – another voice – a more grown up and peaceful voice. I had accidentally discovered what spiritual teachers and psycholog