Sabbath Day – Sleeping through the Revolution
It’s almost Christmas, and this Sabbath Day reflects a change in rhythm, but never took me far from preparations for the Feast of the Nativity on Saturday.
I left bed early today to read a philosophical essay on the phenomenology of prayer. With a full pot of coffee I then worked away throughout the morning on my meditation for Christmas Eve – while doing loads of laundry.
Noontime brought me to La Chinita Poblana in Irvington to have lunch and catch up with a friend I’ve not seen in two years. It was nice to discover how our lives have both changed and stayed the same over the last couple of years. A block from the restaurant is the famous statue of Rip Van Winkle, after the story by Washington Irving (for whom Irvington is named).
I paused for reflection, remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous use of this story in his Commencement Address for the graduating class of Oberlin College in 1965. King invited the students, all of whom were about to leave “the safe security of the academic environment” to think with him on the subject “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
I’m sure that you have read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled Rip Van Winkle. The thing that we usually remember about this story is that Rip Van Winkle slept 20 years. But there is another point in that story that is almost always completely overlooked: it was a sign on the inn in the little town on the Hudson from which Rip went up into the mountain for his long sleep. When he went up, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down, years later, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip looked up at the picture of George Washington, he was completely lost; he knew not who he was. This reveals to us that the most striking fact about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not that he slept 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.
There is a lot of talk today about what it means to “stay woke.” Only the revolution we are living through is regressive, more of a devolution. We don’t seem in danger of history passing us by, like Rip van Winkle, but of history dragging us backwards. And by God, we won’t go back! We require vigilance on every front. King offered advice on staying awake: he counseled cultivating a world perspective; the hard work of confronting racial injustice; and the eternal work of combatting hatred, violence and war. Nothing would make me happier today than if you finished this post and dedicated five minutes to reading King’s speech: “Never allow it to be said that you are silent onlookers, detached spectators, but that you are involved participants in the struggle to make justice a reality.” (use the link is above)
I hear the voice of Jesus asking, “Can you not stay awake with me one hour?” And I pray for strength to see everything, to feel everything, to refuse to look away and to make my life worthy of this moment.
I left Rip van Winkle to reflect while walking a quick couple of miles along the Croton Aqueduct Path south of Irvington, steps I’ve walked before. Then back to White Plains to pick my son up from school and take him to his volunteer positions at Greenburgh Nature Center.
This was a special visit because August’s goat, Locust, is going to church with us on Christmas Eve. August is going to deliver the shepherd’s monologue about how the good news was delivered first to poor shepherds, and he will have his goat by his side. Goats consitently made up 1/3 of a typical shepherd’s flock throughout successive ages in the ancient world, significant evidence that the cast majority of people lived a bare subsistence lifestyle, and the shepherds in poverty. (See Roland Boer, The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel, for a fascinating read of the Biblical world’s four legged friends).
Family Worship (with the goat) at 5:00 PM. Choral Service at 8:00 PM.
Back at home we settled for Chinese take-out, and while mom was out at a meeting August and I did homework, baked cakes, folded laundry, read, and watched parts of a documentary, American Native, about the Ramapough Lenape Nation we visited last week. I made a number of phone calls to arrange bits of the Xmas Eve services, and revised the bulletin. Sabbath Day light!
And finally bedtime/blogtime. August and I are currently reading together Philip Pullman’s novel The Golden Compass which contains the marvelous sentence: “The Alethiometer [the Golden Compass] tells the truth. As for how to read it, you’ll have to learn yourself.” This day comes full circle (where it began at 6:00 AM) to the hermeneutical/phenomenological/cultural task of hearing the “Call of God” amidst the noise of this world. It’s there, but we cannot hear it above the din of our greed, violence and opportunistic hatred. As Edmund Sears wrote in “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”:
But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long!
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!