An Introduction from Dr. Kj Swanson:
Every other year the Seattle School offers the course SFD (Spiritual Formation & Direction) 523 Spirituality & the Arts and with each offering, the instructor has focused on a particular form of art as a way to explore spiritual practices and how the arts can inform and sustain spiritual formation. Two years ago I centered the course on film. This year I wanted another medium of artistic engagement that students may already find meaningful and that I too have found spiritually and formatively significant. The Wizarding World created by author JK Rowling was an obvious choice. It encompasses not only literary traditions rooted in the work of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, but it also includes film, fandom, immersive theme parks, and creative digital media.
From January to April of 2019, 40 students read (or re-read) over 1,000 pages of Harry Potter
texts, created immersive experiences for their classmates, wrote and analyzed fan fiction as a
form of spiritual practice, and unpacked together the resonance, both theological and
psychological, of these stories that have enchanted so many of us for over twenty years. I was
humbled and awed each week by what students discovered and shared with one another, and
am pleased to have some of them able to share their work with a wider community. Expecto
When I was a kid, my two best friends and I loved to make movies. Dressed in robes we stole from the church choir and armed with a cheap camcorder, we would run around the neighborhood making cheesy knockoffs of our favorite fantasy films. Given that we lived in the not-so-primeval city of Saginaw, Michigan, an important part of our process was scouting fantastical and enchanting-looking locations. It wasn’t always easy, but we steadily became adept at finding anything that even remotely resembled Narnia, Middle-Earth, or the Hogwarts grounds. An eerie section of trees, a wooden and ancient-looking church door, a shadowy path; all of these places became something more to us.
During one of the first weeks of Dr. Swanson’s Spirituality and the Arts class, I was struck by a quote from C. S. Lewis about the enriching power of fantasy. Arguing against critics’ objections that fantasy creates an unhealthy and unrealistic desire in children, Lewis writes: “[A child] does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”
Looking back at our filmmaking adventures, I remember feeling a rush of joy and electricity in finding something otherworldly in a seemingly ordinary place. The stories we loved didn’t make us despise our city because of its lack of magic; the stories we loved made our city more magical. The woods, the old church door, the shadowy path; they became magical because in them we discovered beauty and detail that we never saw before.
Lewis’ quote stuck with me throughout Kj Swanson’s Harry Potter class. Week after week we would walk into a Seattle School Classroom for a “Pensieve Presentation,” a peer-led immersion into the Wizarding World, and feel like we were somewhere else. We were at the Seattle School, but we were also at the Yule Ball, or in Potions Class, or traveling through time, or competing in the Triwizard
Tournament. Whether it was through a guided reflection or through engaging our senses with lighting and taste and sound (actual bubbling cauldrons, butterbeer, candles, strobe lights!), these projects (and the stories that inspired them) enriched the space we inhabited.
Now, even though the class is over, I can’t help but walk around through the Seattle School feeling that things are a little more magical than they were before.
I left that class with an unshakable sense of magic, and—given my childhood habit of finding magic in ordinary places—it’s no surprise that a month or so later I decided to dress up as Harry Potter, take a picture in front of Stadium High School, and create an Instagram account called: Expecto Tacoma! The mission: Finding magic in the #cityofdestiny.
When I moved to Tacoma in 2015, I immediately began to notice the rich and timeless architecture. It all began with Stadium High School—a French chateau- inspired building infamously compared to Hogwarts—but I then branched out to other places: an old street bridge on my running route, the ivy-covered brick buildings on the University of Puget Sound Campus. I began to see the fantastic everywhere, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.
What started out as an impulsive and tongue-in-cheek photoshoot has now transformed into a project that is helping me fall more and more in love with my community and my home. Expecto Tacoma has allowed me to meet new people, inspired others to visit places they’ve never been to in their city, made people homesick for Tacoma, and overall highlighted the incredible pride Tacomans have for their city.
I keep coming back to Lewis’ quote because I think it describes my experience so well. Harry Potter has not made me despise the real world because of its lack of wizards, dragons, and magic wands. Harry Potter has helped me find magic everywhere: in Saginaw, Michigan, in Tacoma, Washington, and at The Seattle School. It’s not that these places weren’t magical before—on the contrary, they always have been—it’s just that Harry Potter (a text) has allowed me to see things in these places that I never would have noticed before.
And, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that magic is possibility: The possibility of noticing something you didn’t see before, the possibility of meeting new people and appreciating old friends, the possibility of seeing how the past touches the present, and the possibility of envisioning a beautiful future.
Following the creation of his Instagram account Expecto Tacoma!, Mike Thomas developed quite a following and was featured on King 5. Click here to read the article.