“To sleep, perchance to dream” such are the words of the great William Shakespeare written for his character Hamlet. It is only in such dreams can we mark the passage of sleep. Short of dreams, we really do not know we are asleep until we wake. We can be aware of the long glide path to sleep – the yawns, the stretching, the telling ourselves “just one more chapter in this book….” Or perchance, our afternoons when we think “I am just resting my eyes.” The thought gives away to the sweet rapture of the most awesome afternoon ever. Perhaps the reverie of our daydreams leave unperturbed the here and now. One short sleep past and we awake and the here-and-now is like our pet dog at the end of the bed or couch waiting for us to get up and fetch them a doggie treat.
The folks who read or heard St. Paul’s letter – they probably had no idea they were asleep, dreams or no. And so Paul tells them: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Maybe we too are startled from slumber or reverie as St. Paul asks us to wake up, look around, and realize parts of the here-and-now are marked with things to do, places to be – and not just according to our plans. If we would claim the mantle of Christian, we are to put on the armor of light and conduct ourselves properly. We are on this journey of the Christian life and there is a point to the trip.
There is a frustration that St. Paul seems to have with many of his communities and so makes his pitch to the Romans before he has ever met them. I compare to St. Paul being the parent in the front seat of the family mini-van, parked before the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon, and we are the kids in the backseat. One child is asleep, oblivious. Another has on the headphones, watching a video. The other two are squabbling about one thing or another. All everyday stuff; all just being kids – and all of them missing the big picture of the here and now. Matthew’s gospel recognizes that and he too shouts, “Therefore, stay awake!”
I would suggest, that St. Matthew, like Shakespeare, has constructed masterful a three-act play. Each act last about 15 verses; each contains a description of events still to come, and each ends with a renewed call to discipleship in the here and now. Today we heard Act 3 in which St. Matthew reminds us of the virtue and the challenge of mindfulness – the moment-by-moment willingness to stay awake to all that is in the here and now. And if we are honest, every one of us should recognize how difficult that can be.
This could be the greatest homily every given (…then again, maybe not…) but maybe today its hard to stay focused. You try to attentive during Mass without letting your mind wander off, but…. The present moment is sometimes too slippery for most of us to hang on to. As hard as we try, we tend to slide off into what happened yesterday or what we must do an hour from now, and whether our problem is preoccupation with the future or disillusionment with the past, the end result is that we are challenged to live our lives while they are actually happening to us. We are cut off from the present.
And here is the problem: God is in the present and we are asking God to wade through all the layers what we have done and what we are planning to do. It is kinda’ like being on a date and thinking about a past date, or a future date, and not enjoying the one you are on right now. We’re sleep walking through the greatest date ever. “Therefore, stay wake!”
It is not just sleep, dreams, thoughts, and reverie that pull us away from the present. There are other ways to not be mindful about God who is present before us. Sometimes it is being present in our lives, but being incredibly busy about many things. Parish life has its own tone and tenor, ebb and flow, demands and opportunities. This parish is vibrant, growing, and always has lots of ministry in progress. We are busy in good and holy ways. And yet I blinked and, oh my gosh, it’s the first Sunday of Advent – how did that happen? Suddenly I am reminded that this is the season of Advent; I have a date with God and I need to prepare and get ready: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”
Alright, I need to get ready, right? So I go the closet – and there I find I have stored all my good intentions about the people in my life whom I am going to treat better one day real soon. I am not always going to be this busy and unfocused, I tell myself. Any moment now I am going to have time to do the things I have always meant to do and say the things I have always meant to say. I am going to be a better friar. I am going to pray more. I am going to make my life count…
….and the reverie begins anew…. this vision of the future gets me off the hook today. Look at those splendid intentions! They make me a better person right now, and you know what I have all the time in the world…..
Like I said, being mindful of the present can be a tricky thing.
It is Advent and I need to prepare for the moment that is now. I need to decide to live the life given me – not give too much energy to reliving yesterday or saving my best self for tomorrow. In the here and now I have a decision to make, a letter to write, a call to make, let someone know they are loved, to extend a hand, to open my eyes to the Grand Canyon, and get ready.
“To sleep, perchance to dream…” Nope, its time to wake up; I have a date with God.
And so do you. It is Advent. The Lord is coming.