catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 9 :: 2010.04.30 — 2010.05.13


Awake in the world at the dawn

Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5:14b

Says an ancient Christian hymn riffing on passages from Issiah and quoted by Saint Paul the Apostle in his epistle to the Ephesians.  Paul and Jesus on more than one occasion enjoin us to be awake and watchful.  We could interpret this encouragement to wakefulness along the lines of some conceptions of enlightenment, where to be awake is to become aware of the illusion of one’s previous consciousness and that the new and the old have no relationship. All one knew before is false, so that all that one awakens to is new and other.

Yet what is interesting about these metaphors of wakefulness in the hands of Paul and Jesus is that being awake and watchful does not have to do with coming out of a dream state, but of seeing, of being in the light, of being truly alive in the same world. It isn’t that in death and darkness and sleep, we are in an illusory world. The night is not an illusion per se, what one finds in the night in darkness is still the world. In darkness, the world is perhaps more dangerous, or at least if one has neither moon nor a light in hand difficult to navigate. In the darkness we have trouble seeing, since we require light to see the world fully.

If I am asleep, sure I may dream, but more importantly in sleep, we are dead to the world around us.  If we are overly tired or drugged, we could sleep past the coming of the light and be as though dead.  In the passage quoted at the beginning, to sleep is to be dead, to awake is to rise from the dead, to be awake and alive is to be in the light.  If asleep and dead, we are in the world shrouded in Darkness. To be awake then is not to pass from one world into an entirely different world, but to see the world more clearly, to come to know and see the world in a different way, it is to see the world in a new light.

This gets at something that has been dawning on me this Easter: the Resurrection of Jesus changes nothing and yet makes everything different. Resurrection and the transformation announced by the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen One offers something other than an enlightenment that is merely freedom from illusion or awakening from a dream state. The Resurrection and the transformation begun in our being raised with Christ in Baptism is about no longer stumbling in a world that is in night or sleeping in a darkened world, about being at the dawn in this same world with eyes wide open, seeing the world in the light of Christ. These metaphors tell us something is different, but what we will see is the same world that was shrouded in darkness.

These metaphors break down of course, as literal day and night are usually experienced as more all-encompassing. We find that we live next to people in the world stumbling around in the night, or who are simply dead to the world revealed to us in the light of Christ. More discouraging we may find that “enlightened,” we simply see clearly a world marred by sin and death.  We have been raised to life, we have woken up, we have light to see — and what we see ain’t pretty. What we are then awakened to is a complex reality that affirms a world created by God as good and holy, and at the same time defaced by the poor choices of those whom God created. The world we find as those who have come into the light isn’t quite the world that should be. Christ awakens us to this discrepency. In the light we encounter the same world, but in light of Christ we encounter it differently.

Ultimately our awakening or enlightenment isn’t the end, but rather our preparation to recieve what will come, and is being brought about by God. This end is the transformation of the entire cosmos, where the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven and there will be no more night, where at last there will be this world no longer distorted by pain, suffering, evil and injustice. Gone will be this distorted darkened world where all seems to be shadow, and where many walk about as sleep walkers or the living dead. We are told we need to be awake and watchful and awaiting this transformation in which night, darkness and death will melt away and this world will only be bathed in the light of life. For now we are awake and to be watchful at the dawn of this new day.

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