Sleep and wakefulness in Lent


In today’s readings, I notice the theme of sleep and wakefulness. Abram enters into a deep trance but awakens to a vision of being told that he will be the father of many. Peter falls asleep,perhaps from being overwhelmed by the vision of the divine, at the transfiguration. He awakens to the reality of descending back to the ordinary world. St Paul speaks of a kind of awakening from overattachment to material goods, lest we forget our citizenship in heaven. Each one seems to suggest that there’s a tendency in the human person to flee from the divine, and to retreat to what is safe, known, controllable.

In a way, Lent encourages us not to take flight from God and what God wishes to do with our lives. So often this is our tendency, maybe not because God seems absent but on the contrary because God is so very present in ways we cannot plan, anticipate, or control. Instead we are invited to enter into God’s activity, not only as witnesses but also as participants in his work.

Peter witnesses Jesus’ transformation. But this is also a symbol of the transformation of the whole human world, too, through God’s redemptive power. Peter is part of this redemptive plan though he can’t have much of an idea how now, long before Pentecost. Abram is chosen by God to be a father to many through Isaac, but for Christians he is also to be a father of many others by the way of faith. Yet he cannot possibly have anticipated how this would work itself out in the details. Instead he simply had to trust by the way of faith in God’s creative capacity.

Both Abram and Peter have encounters with the divine –but although they are overwhelmed they also must “wake up.” Waking up is not only leaving behind a place of mystical transformation but it’s also bringing that experience back into the everyday world, the world not up on the mountaintop, but down in the valley, the world beyond dreams and visions and that exists in flesh and blood human relationships.

In Lent we also can both engage in prayer and spiritual practices, perhaps allow ourselves to be touched by God’s presence. But the real challenge of Lent is to let those experience penetrate into our flesh and blood everyday lives, inform our ordinary relationships, transform the grit and gravel of our lives. Are we willing to wake up and see what God wants to do for us, what God wants to do with us, this Lent?