Henry David Thoreau famously wrote: “The mass of men lead quiet lives of desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” His comment suggests that most of us are asleep (if not dead) inside as we go through our daily motions of unfulfilled encounters at work and home, in relationship with those we love and with God. Even the rewards we receive in accolades, leisure, and possessions do not amount to much when we do not have interior happiness or are not motivated by them.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul, echoed the Hebrew Scriptures and proclaimed: “Arise, O sleeper. Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.” He coaxes us, even 2,000 years later, to shake off the slumber of darkness and quiet desperation so we can engage in fulfilling acts that are light-giving and life-giving to us and others. To be part of the woke political culture in America originally meant to be alert and tuned in to issues of social, racial, and economic injustice. In her Magnificat, Blessed Mother Mary proclaimed God’s greatness for bringing justice into the world—but not justice as a means to getting even, rather as a path to getting right with one another and with God. In her prayer of praise, she identified social, racial, and economic injustices, too, calling us to active participation that pulls us out of desperation. Jews of the first century, living under Roman occupation and subservience, suffered and sacrificed. But they weren’t alone. They sacrificed and suffered together, and they knew that God was with them. Unfortunately, wokeness backfired on politically correct activists who re-popularized the term in recent times because they adhere to crazy notions like abolishing police and prisons or compensating for past injustices by punishing descendants of wrongdoers. They, like many of us, misunderstand wakefulness and slide back into the shadows of darkness, death, and desperation.
Yet, sometimes in life, each of us has incredible moments of clarity. These are moments of being awakened from the slumber of misguided darkness, from quiet lives of desperation—moments that the woke culture hopes for us. These are moments when we realize that life is to be lived to its fullest so that we don’t carry our songs of grace to the grave, but voice them while we are alive. One of our early church fathers, Saint Irenaus of Lyons, once said, “The greatest glory that we can ever give to God is to be fully alive as long as we live.” He encourages us to be awake. The problem is that we can’t be awake all the time; needing sleep is part of the human condition. Though we probably cannot always control when we slip into the slumber of desperation or darkness, we should recall regularly the moments of clarity when Christ shines on us, when we are most tuned-in, most alive. If we hang onto those moments, they will help us to live in peace and justice with God and all people. They will help us to be fully alive and, as Mother Mary did, to sing the song of justice while we live and, therefore, live life to its fullest.
This is my prayer for us in 2022.