What makes it irrefutable to me that we are a sinful and sick race is our readiness to fall for illusions of power, that is, personal power. Again, I don’t even have to look outside myself to see the evidence of this. Everyone has their own unique set of preferred illusions of power. Mine is, I think, having money. When my bank account gets low, my spirit fails me, I become sluggish. I want to curl up and die, even.
But when I get my monthly social security check and my retirement savings allowance, I suddenly perk up, have the energy to work on my various projects or go visiting, because I feel empowered. That’s my illusion, that I am given the power to be, and do, and live by something outside myself. Without it, I’m finished. My reason and my religion tell me the real truth, I am only because He is, because He provides.
I hastily agree and then fall back into survivalist psychology, making sure I get what I want, personal power through prosperity. Sure, I’m always thankful when I stop to think, what I have, everything, all of it to the smallest detail, has been given me by Him. I am not under any illusion that I deserve it because I worked for it. I know better. Sickness, natural disasters, or barbarians could have plundered me.
But they didn’t. I live in a country that’s safe, I’m healthy, and I have a roof over my head and food on the table. When I remember these things, I laugh at my illusion of personal power and tell myself, all is well, all is well. But I know the pattern will repeat itself. I just don’t want to think of it right now. What illusions of power can be relied on to do, is to hide themselves from you in a pious moment.
Looking outside myself, an illusion of power, perhaps one of the greatest in America, is the possession and use of an automobile. I remember, in the days of racial segregation, I didn’t know much about black people, except that no matter how poor they were, they must have a gorgeous car, even if they had to live in a slum or a shack. I don’t know if this was really true. I just took it for granted. My parents told me.
This white ‘urban legend’ from before the nineteen-sixties reveals to me a basic truth about people and cars today, that they are a symbol, an illusion, of power for people who otherwise feel powerless. I think you can tell, from watching how people drive, not how powerful they are, but how powerless. The crazy guy in the monster truck that almost runs me off the road exemplifies this tragic irony.
Myself, I drive like an old lady—sorry for the stereotype! I once was nearly run off the road by a snazzy sports car being driven thirty miles over the speed limit by, you guessed it, an old lady!—because breaking the speed limit is not one of my illusions of power. I can feel smug about that, but in me even that smugness is an illusion of power. I just know how to schedule myself, so I’m never late—almost!
Good looks, another illusion of power that I think probably everyone has. Others have its opposite, calculated and studious ugliness, although to them it is still beauty in some form they admire as an antithesis to what they think the world thinks beautiful. I don’t know, it’s just a guess. However you’re dolled up, your illusion of being attractive gives you a feeling of power. Without it, you feel nihilistic.
I can imagine myself, full of illusions of power. My wallet full of credit cards that I use irresponsibly, I roar about town in a tank that can’t be driven under the speed limit, all the windows rolled down, the sun roof open so my wildly, exotically dyed plume of hair can fly about in wisps that can’t be missed by anyone I almost hit, my arms covered with tattoos like ‘death to the world’ and other glorious things.
No, these are not my illusions of power, only the fantasy of my evil twin, but do you get my meaning? Alongside these blatant and bullish examples, things that no real Christian would ever be susceptible to, are other illusions of power that pertain to the religious and devout. I needn’t go into them here for fear of offending pious ears, or rag-tagging undeservedly elements of authentic piety that may look the same.
But it’s no secret, especially if you have ever watched Christian TV or gone to a church conference or even to a feast-day panegyri, illusions of power are not restricted to worldly things. There are many kinds of ‘spiritual materialism’ that seduce the unvigilant into lairs of ultra-piety, an ostentatious rosary or prayer-rope capable of strangling a real devil, or garments that make it hard to tell if there’s anyone inside.
From illusions of power, save us, O Christ-God! Prevail upon us, most holy Theotokos, by your prayers to abandon our hopeless hope in illusions of power! Show us the way, blessed saints of God, by your selfless examples, out of our illusions that we can be something or someone better than what God has made us, or by our own powers save ourselves. Give glory to Him alone whose it is, my soul! Rest in Him!