There is something very attractive in soap bubbles. The way they float in the air, their lovely soft colours, the glimmering reflections, they really catch the attention. And I’ve recently discovered that they are even more beautiful when they are frozen. Just google for ‘frozen bubble’ and you’ll find the most stunning pictures and tutorials on how to make them. Soap bubbles, frozen or otherwise, seem to me a fitting image of our relation to illusions. We feel attracted to their beauty and are very sad when they shatter.
Should we be sad when illusions shatter1? I would argue that popping out, and gaining new perspective on reality is actually a good thing. The false protection that illusions offer, shields us from the real world, and this is harmful. As prof. Dumbledore said to Harry Potter: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”2
For a long time I have lived in such an illusion. I grew up in a small congregation3, where I learned that we were of the select group who still kept the hope that we would not die, but live until Jesus came back. We would then pass into the new life without dying4. When taken too far, this can become a very attractive illusion, and harmful too. It is harmful because it completely shifts the attitude of the believers. We become defensive, trying to keep our saved state, instead of being involved in the actual world. Instead of following the example of Jesus who gained victory over death by dying, and who told5 us to do the same and gain life by losing it, we are now focusing on the prospect of a painless passage6.
It may sound strange, but it has actually been tremendously difficult for me to free myself from this deception. It’s not a simple matter of changing your mind. All your natural instincts protest against going from a safe place into the dangerous unknown. It feels wrong, even to think about it. Therefore this must be a very conscious decision, and I have taken some drastic steps to break free, see my text Ramblings of a Pharisee. But now what? I cannot throw away my whole youth, it formed me and is part of me. Why did God allow such illusions? Is there some beauty that I can still use?
Saint Teresa said that she learned more from contemplating water than from all the books in the world. Now let me follow her example and contemplate frozen soap bubbles. For their beauty is caused by the water — captured between two layers of soap — that has frozen into snowflakes. Thus showing the capabilities of water that would otherwise have remained hidden. For me this is a great image of the good things in my background. The snowflakes indicate to me the very systematic approach of studying the Bible. Yes, it is water, a good thing, captured between illusions, yet showing magnificent structures.
I am not exactly sure how useful all this knowledge is, but the same question bothered me when I read about other strange Christians in a book about medieval mysticism. At that time I was comforted by reading Psalm 104, especially verse 20 struck me: You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. It seems to me that God allows, or even expressly desires, a lot of variety in his creatures. No need to protect ourselves by creating a world of our own, with only light and no darkness. Let us dare to open our eyes to the diversity and life that is real.
- I certainly was, I felt betrayed and scared and exhausted. Read about this initial stage here.
- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- The Catholic Apostolic Church
- This was based on what Saint Paul says in 1 Cor 15:51-52.
- John 12:25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
- We also learned that in this way we would escape the great tribulation that would then come over the rest of the world, making the illusion even more complicated, happy for us, but sad for our friends outside.