Sparkle and lights
It’s late in the night on the Fourth of July as I write this. My beloved neighborhood is fully embracing “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” lyric of our national anthem. It’s so very loud. Thankfully, the rest of my family is sleeping through it. As I peek in on my snoozing children, I remember fondly my own childhood of good sleeping.
Every year on Independence Day, we would drive from the suburbs where we lived into the center of Denver, to a baseball field just north of the old Mile High Stadium. This was before the Colorado Rockies existed, so the city’s minor league baseball team would play a game at the stadium and end with the city’s premiere firework show.
We’d spread out a mustard yellow blanket we always used for picnics. And then we’d eat homemade popcorn out of a big paper bag and pass around M&Ms as it got dark and the park filled up. And then, at some point, I would fall asleep. At least twice, if not more often, I slept through the entire fireworks display. All the booms and the bright lights. All the oohs and ahhs of the crowd. I slept through the whole thing. When I woke up the next day, having been carried back to the car and lovingly tucked into bed, I was so disappointed that I missed all that beauty and fun.
As I look back on my life, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just fireworks I’ve slept through. There’s a lot I missed out on, not from actually sleeping, but from not paying attention, caught up in my own worries or selfishness. Either intentionally or unknowingly, I’ve ignored both the beauty and the need that is right in front of me.
Jesus told his disciples more than once to wake up. It wasn’t just at the Garden of Gethsemane when he wanted some solidarity in his praying. But earlier in his life he said to them (to us), “keep awake, for you do not know when the time will come.” We don’t know when Jesus is going to show up, so he wants us to be ready. Be prepared to love. Keep awake to reality.
We live with a sleepiness in our spirit, unable to notice God’s presence around us – even if it is full of boom and sparkle. Our sleepiness keeps us from missing the good stuff, the possibilities for relationship, the beauty of creation, the quirky goodness of the people who are just there in front of us. With heavy eyes, we also miss out on the reality of need and suffering in front of us, too. Without our intending it, we ignore the struggles and the hurts of those around us. We focus on our own happiness and are asleep to the ways our lives impact others.
When we start to wake up, we come face to face with some of our own complicity or the places we’ve missed out. It’s not easy, but it is the only way to real life. After all, in this awake-ness, we can experience real connection and real joy. We’ll get to see the sparkle and lights and goodness that comes in conscious, awake living and loving. As Paul writes, “So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).