Awake, O Sleeper! Dream Logic and Spiritual Life

ephesus-basilica
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost / Thirteenth Sunday of Luke, November 29, 2015
Ephesians 5:8-19; Luke 18:18-27
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

One of my favorite metaphors for spiritual conversion is to awaken from sleep. There is actually a lot about spiritual life that resembles sleeping or waking up. And today we hear this metaphor used by the Apostle Paul as he speaks to the Ephesians.

But he begins by first talking about darkness: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth), proving what is acceptable to the Lord; and have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them; for it is a shame even to speak of the things which they do in secret.”

We are supposed to be “children of the light,” and to “walk” as though we are, to “have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Now, when we think of “unfruitful works of darkness,” we may think of what we would consider “big” sins, such as murder or adultery. So if we’re not doing those things, then we don’t have a “darkness problem.”

But that kind of thinking gets us off track in the spiritual life. Why? It is because all sin is “darkness.” When someone lusts in his heart, it is darkness. When someone views pornography, it is darkness. When someone harbors judgmentalism or hatred for another, it is darkness. When someone does not show kindness to someone in need, it is darkness. The list can go on and on. Every time we do not live like our Lord Jesus Christ, it is darkness. To live in darkness is not just to do some “big” bad thing, but it is anything which is not walking in the light of Jesus Christ.

I believe this thinking is why many people do not come to confession—they believe that they really have no sins “worth” confessing. Sure, there are some “little” things, but are those things really worth bringing to confession? No one’s perfect, right?

It’s true—no one is perfect. But we are Christians, so we’re not content to remain imperfect. We are called to become perfect—Jesus was explicit about that in Matthew 5:48. So a lot of what we think is “little” is really not. But we just don’t understand it clearly yet. We are so used to walking around in very dim light that we do not realize that it is actually darkness. The question is not “Do I live a good life?” If we asked. “How close am I to perfect?” we would be getting closer, though since most of the time we think of “perfection” as moral goodness, we wouldn’t really be all the way there yet.

We are all living in darkness. That does not mean that we are overwhelmingly evil, but we are still in darkness. But we so associate darkness with utmost evil that the metaphor of darkness may not quite communicate to us what we need to understand here. It is still very hard for most of us to say with any honesty, “Yes, I walk in darkness.” We can intellectually know that it’s true, but it may not really hit home for us. I can agree that it’s true, but my feeling may be that it is only darkness in a technical sense. I’m not really in darkness. I’m a pretty good person.

That’s why I really like where the metaphor goes next. Paul continues to use darkness as a metaphor for sin, but then he says this: “But all things when they are exposed are made manifest by the light, for everything that is made manifest is light. Therefore he says: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon thee.’”

So now the metaphor is expanded—our spiritual state is not just darkness, but the darkness of sleep. So if our sin is sleep, then our situation becomes more clear. In sleep, we are subject to all kinds of dreams and thoughts. Have you ever had a dream where everything seemed to make sense in the dream, but then when you woke up and remembered the dream, it all seems totally wacky and you wonder how that stuff ever made sense? I’ve had those dreams.

There are, of course, good dreams and bad dreams. I am not speaking here of good dreams, like “I dream that someday I will have a big family.” I am speaking of how dreams distort order and logic. The things we think and see in sleep have their own inner logic that makes sense. And in those dreams, we may do things that we never would if we were awake. That is why they are dreams. They are not real.

The same is true in spiritual life. We function asleep much of the time. We are at rest in the logic of the spiritual worlds in which we live. And in those worlds, we are moral beings. In those worlds, being “a good person” is the key to spiritual life. In those worlds, what we do makes sense, and it all fits within the order that is the context of our slumber.

But then: “Awake, O sleeper! And arise from the dead!” For the spiritual dreams we dream turn out to lead us toward spiritual death. They are unreal, but their result is real. It is a sleep of death, a sleep that governs everything for us, most of the time. It is why, even though we know what we need to do in order to become perfect, even though we know what it takes to become righteous as Jesus Christ is righteous, even though we know what it takes to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we do not do it. Our sleep has superimposed a different order, a different, dream-logic in which what we do makes total sense, even though it is not in accordance with what has been revealed to us by God. This is the Scripture’s definition of chaos and darkness, that everyone does what seems right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).

So what must we do to wake up? The key is in what Paul says in full here: “Awake, O sleeper, And arise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon thee.” When the light comes in the window of our slumber, it wakes us up. The distorted logic of our dreams is swept away in the light of day. Suddenly, what made sense no longer makes sense. Suddenly, what we were doing before seems absurd. Suddenly, everything has changed.

And that is what spiritual conversion is like, whether it is the first-time conversion of a new believer, the conversion of a nominal or low-energy Christian to one who is engaged, or the conversion of a genuinely engaged Christian to a higher level of holiness.

And why does this work? It is because Christ has shone upon the sleeper. The light of Jesus Christ changes how we see things. His light wakes us up, cleanses our perceptions, gives us clarity of vision and thought and heart. We begin to see things we did not see before.

And we realize that not only were we behaving absurdly, that the logic of our spiritual sleep really does not make any sense, but that there are whole opportunities to be had, a whole life to be lived. That is how it is when we wake up from our dreams. We get up, get ready and go live. We work on our projects. We achieve our goals. We work on our relationships. We get things done.

In spiritual life, the same is true. We don’t wake up just so that we stop sinning. We wake up so we can begin living. Whole worlds of possibility open up before us when we see the light of Jesus Christ.

So, finally, if I am spiritually asleep, if I am dreaming those bizarre dreams where I do and say and think things that only seem to make sense, how do I wake up to the light of Jesus Christ?

To key is to come into His presence so we can see that light.

We know how to do that. We can see the light of Christ in private prayer, in corporate prayer, in self-sacrifice, in generosity, in studying the Scripture, in learning about the Christian faith, in humbling ourselves—there are so many ways. But we cannot wake up from our spiritual sleep and see the light of Christ if we do not do them.

Many times, it takes only one of those ways. And we wake up. And then we begin to see what we have never seen. And life begins.

To Christ, Who is our light, be all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

One comment:

  1. Fr. Andrew, thank you for such an outstanding homily! It’s a great reminder that we need to be practicing our faith rather than intellectualizing it.

    This reminds me of a passage from St. John’s gospel (14:21):
    “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will MANIFEST Myself to him.”

    God does the work, but our effort is absolutely required (Philippians 2:12-13):
    “…Work our your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

    For this reasons one of my favorite icons is “The Miraculous Catch of Fish” in which Peter and other disciples were exhausted from fishing all night without any fish to show for it, but when they obeyed Christ’s instructions to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat, which, to be honest, seemed foolish, they caught so many fish that their nets were at risk of breaking! Lately I find myself trying so hard to do things my way, but, unfortunately, that is not the same as keeping His commandments. If I could only be more consistently disciplined, obedient and faithful then I could experience so much more of the purification and illumination that Christ desires to offer.

    Thanks for the wakeup call!

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