Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Point Defiance: Magical and Fully Alive

Written by: on November 20, 2023

My husband and I went for a walk and run today at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. The   experience was magical. The trails at Point Defiance are soft with pine needles, leaves, and the deep, damp dirt of the Pacific Northwest, and they curve through tall Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars, and even madronas of soft golden bark, bright green leaves, and red berries. Today, the air was crisp and cold, the wind blew strongly off the salt water, the sky was a shocking bright blue up through the treetops, and the birds called to each other in a variety of songs. The trails here wind for miles, offering runners and walkers a deep woods experience into the interior of the peninsula or a perimeter run along the cliffs overlooking the Puget Sound.

Our lungs took in the fresh air, our senses gathered the sounds and smells of the forest, and our feet ran in rhythm with each other and with the “heartbeat” of the land, God’s amazing creation. Looking up, we saw two bald eagles gliding above the tree canopy. They were beautiful. We later heard eagles chattering and calling to each other in the distance. Their call is unique and one I’ve only heard once before today. We felt fully alive. Surely our whole being was engaged in this day, consciously and unconsciously.


Daniel Z. Lieberman, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, in his book, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind, points out that the human brain operates through a complex, collaborative effort of the conscious and unconscious mind, together. He makes the case that the unconscious, “a vast collection of neural circuits working all the time, just out of sight – just out of mind,” is vastly more influential in our daily living than we might think.[1] Pointing out that humans tend to value their conscious, rational mind, more than their unconscious, instinctual ways of thinking, he says, “We have two ways of understanding: an instinctual one, which views the world from a magical perspective, and a rational one, which tends to be more materialistic…most people prefer the logical approach…but you pay dearly if you ignore a large part of your brain and try to make sense of the world using only half your cognitive abilities.”[2] He challenges the reader to “recognize the influences of the unconscious, and make it an ally in helping us become who we were meant to be.”[3]

The “Magical Perspective” Caught My Attention

I was particularly interested in Lieberman’s presentation of the “Magical Perspective.” To communicate what he means by the “magical perspective,” he draws upon the wisdom of psychologist William James, speaking about the psychology of religion. James describes the way in which the human mind embraces those experiences of life that are difficult to rationalize and put words to, those experiences that allow us to believe in the unseen, have faith in something greater than ourselves, live for a love beyond our capacity. He says, “Weight, movement, velocity, direction, position, what thin, pallid, uninteresting ideas!… It is the terror and the beauty of phenomena, the ‘promise’ of the dawn and of the rainbow, the ‘voice’ of the thunder, the ‘gentleness’ of the summer rain, the ‘sublimity’ of the stars, and not the physical laws which these things follow, by which the religious mind still continues to be most impressed.”[4]

Jason Clark, in a lecture at Oxford University, spoke of a similar phenomenon creating wonderment and transcendence: that which is sublime, that which moves us to awe and wonder, those experiences in which we encounter God, and language is insufficient to describe the moment.[5] Human beings experience the sublime and the magic in those moments when our complex selves, our conscious and unconscious, connect with the complexities of God’s creation, all we can see and all we cannot see. This is a time when our rational brain is present, but not overriding our intuitive brain, so that both can be functioning and fully alive. This is what I felt on our run today at Point Defiance, paying attention but not controlling, hearing what God was speaking through God’s creation.

Engaging the Conscious and Unconscious in Nature: A Personal Example

As I ran through the trails, several words kept coming to mind, as if up from my subconscious, words that had come to mind a few days earlier. Faith. Hope. Love. And the greatest of these is love.[6] It seemed God was showing me a new depth to these concepts that had been swirling on the back burner of my brain for the last few days. Through nature I was learning from God of faith, hope, and love, without actual words, but instead, through seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling. Intuition, as well. No words needed. That was magical. God has definitely given us the ability to engage with, intuit, and make sense of the world in a variety of ways, and in so doing we engage richly and deeply with God, ever more intimately, as we learn to live fully into the complexity of the people God has created us to be.

Lieberman says, “A magic moment wakes us up from our familiar routines. It makes us realize the world has a deeper, more mystical dimension than we’re accustomed to seeing.”[7] He adds, we may not have control over when these magical moments occur, “but when they do, we connect with the unconscious, the ordinary fades away, and we remember what it feels like to be fully alive.”[8] And isn’t that what we are seeking? To be fully alive?

Conclusion: A Quote and a Prayer

I am reminded of a quote by theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman which says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”[9]

God, help us to live fully alive as the people you created us to be, enjoying and loving you with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind: conscious and unconscious.[10]


[1] Daniel Z. Lieberman, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2022), 1.

[2] Lieberman, 46.

[3] Lieberman, 1.

[4] William James in Lieberman, 23.

[5] Jason Clark, A Lecture on the “Sublime,” Christ Church, Oxford University, Oxford, England, September 20, 2023.

[6] I Corinthians 13:13.

[7] Lieberman, 25.

[8] Lieberman, 25.

[9] Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1995), xv.

[10] Mark 12:30.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

13 responses to “Point Defiance: Magical and Fully Alive”

  1. mm Becca Hald says:

    Jenny, what a beautiful description of your walk/run in the forest. I felt like I was there with you. You wrote, “Through nature I was learning from God of faith, hope, and love, without actual words, but instead, through seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling. Intuition, as well.: I can so relate to that. Every time I step out my front door or drive into town, I am in awe of the beauty of creation and thankful for where we live. Are there other places or situations that give you that same experience of learning about God through your senses?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Becca, Thanks for your comments. It sounds like your home is beautiful! I need to come visit you sometime. 🙂 I definitely feel like every opportunity to hike, run, or walk in the woods can be a powerful time of connecting to God. Forest Park in the Portland area is very woodsy and close to our home and a place we head to often for fresh air and a fresh perspective. I’ll have to put some thought into what additional experiences, other than be outside, engage my senses and speak of God’s love. Thank you for that question!

      Hoping you have a nice Thanksgiving.

  2. Jenny,
    Great post, We really enjoy Point Defiance as well. Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    I loved your post and enjoyed the connection with nature. Love to hike for that very reason – I seem to find many magical moments with the Lord when I’m on a trail.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette, Thank you so much for your thoughts. I like how you worded that: “I seem to find many magical moments with the Lord when I’m on a trail.” Hoping we can both get out on the trail this holiday season. 🙂

      See you tomorrow!

  4. mm David Beavis says:

    Thank you for this insightful post, Jenny. It made me want to get out to Forest Park and have a magical moment with the Lord. I have heard it said that all of life is sermon prep for the preacher. There’s validity to this, because our subconscious is always working and making connections as your post shows. Now, question for you is this: What is the connection between Lieberman’s content and your current leadership role?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi David, I like the thought that “all of life is sermon prep for the preacher.” Thanks for your comments and your question. Regarding how Lieberman’s book connects to my leadership role, I think the first thing I think of is that maybe I don’t pay enough attention to the work my unconscious mind is doing for me around work topics. I feel I sometimes stay a little too planned and rigid and organized, which is a positive quality, but I notice that when I relax a bit and let go of focusing just on my conscious brain, I feel a little more able to follow my instincts, listen carefully and intuitively, and enjoy my work context. I’ll have to give this some more thought, but that’s what comes to mind off the top of my head. Thanks for the question, David.

      Hope you get that run in at Forest Park soon! 🙂

  5. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Great description of your experience on the trail and with Lieberman. I was also drawn to the vision that we are most fully alive when the conscious fades allowing our other senses to allow our unconscious selves to have more prominence.
    Is this a common experience when you are in nature? While Lieberman says we cannot control when this does occur, I wonder if we can put ourselves in places where this happens naturally for us.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Chad, Thanks for your comments. Yes, this is definitely a common experience when I’m in nature and something that I really seek out, which makes me think, like you referred to, that possibly we can sometimes put ourselves in places where we know our unconscious mind will be engaged and connecting with the environment. I really appreciate that question. God has made our minds incredibly complex and I am always amazed at how we function far beyond our understanding.

  6. mm Daron George says:

    Hi Jenny!

    In your experiences of encountering the ‘magical’ in nature and in daily life, how do you balance embracing these moments of intuition and unconscious awareness with the rational, conscious understanding of your surroundings and experiences?

  7. Jenny – THANK YOU for linking magical moments to the sublime we encountered in Oxford. It seems as though your project has quite a few connections to the topic of the unconscious. Did you learn anything specific from Spellbound that you’ll apply to your nature experiences?

  8. Kristy Newport says:

    Great post!
    Thanks for letting us run through the wilderness with you!
    I am curious
    In your research have you found anything relating to how the animals speak/communicate with one another? I am wondering if we can learn from animals and how they communicate with each other? I know that we can learn a lot from God’s creation. This is just one aspect. Your comments on the eagles and the noises that they make- brought this to mind.

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