It’s Life’s Illusions, I Recall

When I was younger (lots younger) practically every teenaged girl I knew sang this Joni Mitchell song by heart. And they sang it, sometimes tearfully, often to each other, whenever their hearts were broken.
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, i’ve looked at cloud that way.
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.
So many things i would have done but clouds got in my way.
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions i recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all…
I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions i recall.
I really don’t know life at all. – Joni MItchell
Micthell’s Both Sides Now tells the story of a person whose illusions of youth – romantic notions about the world, love and life – are shattered by disappointment and lead, very literally, to disillusion.The song’s singer, now a somewhat embittered cynic, looks back both at her earlier, more romantic, understandings and her later, dark ones and concludes  she has achieved no real, deep understandings, indeed, that such understandings are likely impossible.
It’s a song that encourages and validates the despair that’s sometimes too common in heartbroken teens.
Contrast Mitchell with Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston, who sees losing illusions about life, not as a function of loss, disappointment and despair, but of replacing one lens, one perspective for another by virtue of greater and perhaps more mature understanding. In other words, personal growth. And as a result of this change, Charleston posits we can see things (in his example, the Bible) in new and more enlightened ways.
We walk on water. As a child I did not understand and took the story for magic. But now I see that the boat is the illusion and the truth is waves beneath my feet. I do not know where my next step will take me. I have no certain ground that life will guarantee. With the weight of pride in mind, stones of judgment in hand, heart heavy in anger: I could so easily sink into the dark. But if I trust, if I forgive, if I love as I am loved, then my soul stands feather light, no matter the path I take. We walk on water every day. The challenge is to reach the shore. – Steven Charleston

Here, the child’s understanding of the Bible as a series of magic tricks is replaced by an adult’s understanding of it as an outline of an expansive and different way to live. How rich is this way to break through life’s illusions, how rich, too, it makes the Bible – a source of ways to live, instead of, as many would have it, a book of literal stories.

As a way to break through the illusions of life, I believe there’s much more value in Charleston’s approach than Mitchell’s.

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