Sleep Walking

Pain.  A lot of pain.  In my hand, shooting up my left arm.

I jerked.  I looked down to see what the heck was causing all that pain.  It was my fourth grade teacher striking my wrist with a wooden ruler!

In rhythm with the pulsating pain, I heard voice in the distance right next to me calling my name:  Ga-ry!  Ga-ry!  Ga-ry!

I wasn’t asleep, but I was as deep in a daydream as humanly possible.  My teacher couldn’t get attention without smacking  me.

I’ve had a few others who’ve wanted to smack me when I zone out.  My wife Marilyn’s one of them.  And my dad.  He was a teacher, and my absentmindedness drove him crazy.

Sometimes it’s like I’m asleep when I’m awake.

In his book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr writes about a conversation between a Zen master and his student:

“Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”

“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”

A mass hypnotic trance

Are you asleep when you are awake?  Richard Rohr writes,

To become aware of God’s presence in our lives, we have to accept what is often difficult, particularly for people in what appears to be a successful culture.  We have to accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance.  We’re sleep walkers.  All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught to see.

In the Genesis 3 narrative of original sin, the temptations goes like this:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent … “God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden … or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it [don’t miss this] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye [her eyes are already beginning to open], and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Then [just like the Serpent predicted!] the eyes of both of them were opened, [but which eyes?] and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

This passage strikes me as either ludicrous or sublime.  Here we have the dreadful first sin, the cause of human death and suffering, an act of defiance which will eventually result in the bloody death of God’s Son on a Roman cross.  And … what?  Adam and Eve suddenly realize they’re naked?  And they sew the giant leaves of the fig tree together to clothe their nakedness?

That’s it?

No, this isn’t just a cute story.  It suggests that sin turned human nature upside down.  God designed us to see him clearly, created us with a primary sense of the spiritual realm and a secondary sense of the physical realm.  But “the fall” has severely handicapped  our capacity for God and transcendent, eternal things.

Blinded by the darkness

The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4,

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Blinded by the darkness, unbelievers can’t see the light.  But this is no less a problem for believers.  It’s why Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12,

Now [in this present age] we see through a glass, darkly.  (KJV)

At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! (Phillips)

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. (The Message)

Yes, ever since Adam and Eve had their conversation with a snake, our eyes have been much more opened to the physical world, and our spiritual capacity is virtually lost.

Rohr writes,

All spiritual disciplines [fasting, prayer, Sabbath, giving, Bible reading, worship, silence, accountable friendships] have one purpose: to get rid of illusions so we can be present.  These disciplines exist so that we can see what is, see who we are, and see what is happening.  On the contrary, our mass cultural trance is like scales over our eyes.  We see only with the material eye.

Seeing is believing

The sky is bright blue.  The winter grass is spring green.  It’s a perfect day.  I take deep breath of the soft morning air. I look at my watch.  Check my cell phone for messages.  Think about the day ahead, and say a quick prayer.

It’s a short prayer because (I hate to admit it) talking to God is often less real to me than the world around me.  It’s why the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t …

… lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2  Corinthians 4:16-18)

Hebrews 2:8-9 is parallel:

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see [with our physical eyes] everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus [with spiritual eyes].

It’s not either-or.  God made us physical beings forever.  He put his stamp of approval on our mortal bodies by resurrecting the body of his Son from the grave.  The physical world is God’s creation given to us to care for and enjoy.  But we are not to be bound to this world, by this world.  Our world is under the curse of sin, and we have to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We have live by faith [spiritual eyes], not by sight [physical eyes] (2 Corinthians 5:7).

So what do you see?  In your life?  In each day, each moment?  Do you only see what’s in the day, in the moment?  Or can you see God in the moment?  St. Patrick said,

God beneath you.
God in front of you.
God behind you.
God above you.
God within you.

Why is this so important?  Because what you see will determine who you are, what you do.  Jesus talks about this in Luke 11:34,

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.

Sleepers awake! This is the title of an extraordinary piece of music by Bach for which Philipp Nicolai wrote lyrics in German based on the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

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