Woodstock turns 50 this year. Although I missed the grand event, I wasn’t alone. A young folk singer named Joni Mitchell missed it too. After watching the concert on T.V., she sat down to her piano and wrote a song fittingly titled, “Woodstock.” David Crosby of the band Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young that later sang the song, felt that it captured the spirit of Woodstock. But Mitchell’s intentions, she tells us, were not just to write a song. Joni Mitchell composed her blues version of Woodstock on a piano with a message. In an interview with her biographer, David Yaffee, she admitted that she intended the song’s message to be more of a dirge than a rock song.
What is the song’s message? Thoughtfully, Joni took the song’s message from the Bible in Genesis 1-3. “I came upon a child of God he was walking along a road.” Don’t miss the sacred imagery. God’s child is searching. The song laments the fact that something is very missing and needs to be found. Mitchell tells us that her desire is “to get my soul free.”
But how? In Mitchell’s words, “we are caught in the devil’s bargain.” The devil’s bargain as I understand it, describes that epic event in the Garden of Eden when Satan tempts woman and man to betray God by simply eating of the tree God told them not to. But Joni’s point is clear; it is we who are caught in the devil’s bargain. The solution? Mitchell says, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden.” Getting ourselves back to the garden, the place where people can meet God . . . and divided humanity can be reunited. No wonder the Apostle John, also reflecting on Genesis 1-3, envisions humanity united in the long-awaited new Garden of Eden whose fruit is for “the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2).
But what about the nations needs healing? Reflecting on the Woodstock experience in an interview, Mitchell lamented, “It was really something, that people could be so good to each other. Even if it was only for three days. All those people being good to each other for three whole days!” Mitchell laments over our damaged relationships. She understands the Genesis message. And she wants us to get it too.
Maybe you missed Woodstock. If you did, don’t miss Joni Mitchell’s message. In her words, we all need to set our souls free by getting back to the garden, the place where God invites us to live and enjoy Him and each other because He made us for something better than the relational devastation that we see all around us . . . maybe even in our own lives. How should we respond to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock message? Do I hear an “Amen”?
Dave Deuel — preaching in area churches, and serving in Red Cross Disability Integration