Were you like me in getting up early on November 9th to catch the results of the US Presidential Election? Did you sit by the TV half-awake until the breaking news from the news feeds made you sit up and pay attention? As the special coverage anchors unfolded the story a sense of shock began to take hold. How could this be happening! First, we had the June shock of Brexit and now this. As the realisation that the new US President would be someone whose only claim to fame, up to now, as host of a globally-franchised US reality TV show began to sink in, the world was stunned. All the careful calculations of financial and political analysts were set aside. Suddenly, we find ourselves catapulted into a new world that is not of our making.
It is time to wake up. Rowan Williams, writing in the current issue of the New Statesman describes what has happened as a call to wake up and work for a new humanity.
Waking up to God’s Presence
As we begin this Advent time, we are confronted again and again in the biblical texts and in the liturgy with the call to awake, to rise from sleep (Romans 13:11-14). Something dramatic is about to happen. We must be ready for God’s presence in our lives.
A favourite hymn at Advent time is Bach’s Wachet Auf or Sleepers Awake. It is based on the parable in Matthew 25:1–13, the story about wise and foolish young servants whose duty it was to stay awake so that they could welcome the newly-married couple to the household. Early Christians read the story as a message about Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.
We can read the parable somewhat differently but no less authentically. If we are honest, most of us spend life in a kind of half-asleep state. We are drifting along, doing the job, going to college, involved in relationships but oftentimes, despite the variety, feeling that a different life is possible.
If we are lucky there is a ‘wake up’ moment when the shock to the system is such that we make bold decisions. One young friend of mine is going through this right now. The release of creative energy and the courage to strike out on a new path is as close as one gets to seeing God’s gift of grace in action.
The corollary of ‘waking up’ is paying attention. Simone Weil, the famous French philosopher and spiritual writer whose book Waiting on God has inspired so many places ‘attention’ at the heart of her spirituality. For her to truly pay attention to what is happening in our lives is the heart of what it means to be a contemplative. Paying attention to what is going on in our lives, to what is happening around us, to the world of nature, to the truth of our relationships, is prayer in its purest form.
So, the call this Advent, especially this Advent, is to attend to what is going on around us and in us. Sometimes that attention will awake in us the desire to take God seriously. That call is truly a grace in our lives. It will claim all our attention and will challenge us to deeper relationships at every level.
May this be our grace this Advent.
Take Time Out for a little Meditation
Enjoy this slightly unusual but beautiful arrangement of Bach’s famous Cantata 104, “Sleepers Awake”