Posted by: mmreflections | August 10, 2008

Awake or Asleep: August, 2009

One night, early on in the first years of my priestly ministry, I was returning to the rectory after a late night gathering with some friends.  I no longer recall the purpose of the gathering but as I was driving home my mind was cluttered with many distractions.  There was a good distance to travel before I reached the parish house and I was traveling alone.  What happened that night gave me a good scare and the fear from the incident lingered a long time.   The trip covered about forty miles and I had a clear recollection of about the first twenty.  I don’t recall driving the next approximately fifteen miles but a few miles from home I suddenly seemed to wake up and realized I had been driving on automatic pilot.  In other words I was driving unconsciously for almost half the trip home that night.  I don’t believe I was sleeping but I certainly was not aware of those fifteen miles that seemed to be traveled without any awareness.  I was startled by the realization there could have been a major accident with injury to others and to myself.  I trust my guardian angel was protecting me and teaching me some good lessons about driving in the future.

 Only later did I come to realize that for much of my life I have been living on automatic pilot.  Preoccupied with the past, anxious about the future, worried about all kinds of matters caused me to miss out on years of the abundant life which was mine to enjoy in the present moment.  Jesus often reminded his followers to stay awake, to pay attention, to be alert, to be on guard.  It seems to me that a large majority of people are living unconsciously, preoccupied with grievances about past losses, mistakes, failures and hurts; or concerned about what the future may hold for them and those they love.  In both instances there is no time to enjoy the present.  Just as I had driven miles without attention one dark lonely night on my way home, so I have lived without attention to the present moment  for years on my life journey.  Over the years many have shared with me the pain and sufferings they were experiencing in their lives; in most every case they were living with concerns about the past or living with fear about the future.  At the same time they were unaware of not being awake to enjoy the peace and happiness the present moment was offering them.  Jesus taught us a beautiful lesson about dealing with all our fears and anxieties. 

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they?  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span?  Why are you anxious about clothes?  Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.  They do not work or spin.  But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.  If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’  or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the unbelievers seek.  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.”   (Matthew 6:25-34)

 At the close of our last reflection I said we would consider some indicators of whether we are living our life situations consciously or unconsciously, awake or asleep.  It is important to remember Jesus’ admonition to his followers:  “Stay awake, therefore!  You cannot know the day your Lord is coming.  Be sure of this:  if the owner of the house knew when the thief was coming he would keep a watchful eye and not allow his house to be broken into.  You must be prepared in the same way.”  (Matthew 24:42-44)  I never really paid much attention to these words because I never realized the tactics used by the enemies of our spiritual life.  My old programming taught me to guard against impure thoughts, to avoid telling lies, to resist temptations to steal, and to be sure to keep all the commandments.  All these things are really important.  I was totally caught up with the “do’s and don’ts of the spiritual life.  What I lacked was the realization that I missed the mark (sinned) whenever I was not “awake” or paying attention to what was going on all around me.  That is when I unconsciously gave into temptations. I never realized what the thief in the above scripture quote wanted to steal when he broke into my house.  It was the peace, joy and love the Lord wanted us to have at all times.  It was the abundant life of which Jesus spoke. What happens when the thief catches us sleeping?  He steals our joy and peace that is so important if we are to live as children of God.  How can we tell if we are sleeping?  In place of peace, joy, love, understanding, compassion and concern for others, we are filled with fear, anxieties, worry, shame, guilt, frustration, boredom, anger, hatred, harsh judgments and self-preoccupation.  We become self-centered instead of Christ-centered.  When we are in this state of unconsciousness we are most likely to miss the mark as the sons and daughters of God, and more likely to wound ourselves and others by our words and actions.

 Important for me in order to stay awake and conscious is to remain centered and to keep my focus on the present moment, the here and now, rather than on the past or the future.  How I learned to do this is from something I learned as a little child at my mother’s knee.  The lesson often comes to mind whenever life seems to be going really well and I am enjoying every minute of it.  When I was particularly happy, laughing and just enjoying myself, my mom would often tell me, “Don’t get too happy, don’t sing too much; tomorrow you may be crying.”  It would quickly put a damper on the moment and it seemed the joy would quickly disappear.  On other occasions when I was upset, crying and very sad, she would say, “Don’t be too sad or unhappy, your tears will disappear and you will be happy again.  Tomorrow will be better.”   What I learned was to stay centered and to remember: “this too shall pass.”  Whatever is happening in our lives right now, whether it is joy or sadness, sickness or health, success or failure, abundance or scarcity, it is all passing.  This allows me to be at peace with whatever is happening here and now; it is also a great tool to keep us awake and conscious of the present moment rather than being carried away by concerns over the dead past or the imagined future.

 When Jesus first appeared in Galilee proclaiming the good news of God he announced, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”  (Mark 1:15)  We so easily forget what Jesus was teaching us about the kingdom.  It is here and now!   We are called to live in the kingdom right now!   Many of us are tempted to become preoccupied with some future kingdom.  Jesus tells us it is here!  This preoccupation with the imagined future takes us away from the peace and happiness we are called to enjoy in this very moment regardless of what is happening in our lives, in the lives of those we love, or in the world.  We need to always remember who we are!  We are all children of God, unique manifestations of God’s love and presence in the world.  He will take care of all our need’s; we need only to seek God’s kingdom which is all around us and his righteousness no matter what is going on in our lives right now.  We will next consider ways by which we can more fruitfully seek God’s kingdom in our daily ordinary lives.   

 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will declare all your wondrous deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you;I will sing praise to your name, Most High, because my enemies are turned back,  overturned and destroyed before you. (Psalm 9:1-4)

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