Advent Reflection – “Awaken”

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One of the great themes of the Advent season is the exhortation to “keep awake”: to be watchful and ready for the coming of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s coming may be sudden and occur when we least expect it. We are urged to be vigilant, like sentinels who gaze into the night, ready to welcome the arrival of the king.

Wakefulness is an important human quality, and at the biological level, we must admit, it can be challenging to be alert. Between the screens that keep us up too late and the massive amounts of coffee that we consume in compensation, there’s a kind of artificial alertness that props us up much of the time.

What the scriptures tell us, however, is that we need above all to keep a spiritual alertness. In Byzantine liturgies, the words “be attentive” is chanted many times. What does it mean, exactly, to be spiritually awake?

In C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Silver Chair”, there is a powerful scene in which two children, Jill and Eustace, have descended into a murky underworld in search of a prince who everyone believed was dead but who they believe had been abducted by a witch.

They eventually find the prince bound to chair in a chamber deep underground. But the witch finds them there, and throws some sweet-smelling powder onto a fire, and begins a beguiling stream of speech which distracts and confuses them.

“Come … put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But first to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.”

It’s a classic seduction speech, and the children find themselves nodding in half-agreement as their eyes begin to close. Then a sudden thing happens: their companion, a marshwiggle named Puddleglum, goes over the fire, and stamps it out with his bare feet, turns and rebuffs the witch’s words declaring that even if she is right, and there’s only the dimly lit underworld, “I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there is no Aslan, I’m on Narnia’s side, even if there’s no Narnia.”

This prophetic act brings a rush of clarity to the situation, the witch reveals her true nature and turns into a large serpent. After a quick fight in which the snake is slain, they manage to escape with the prince to the sunlit world, which, it turns out, was the real world all along.

That’s a rather long re-counting of a tale to say only one thing. Like Puddleglum and the children in that story, it is sometimes necessary to awaken ourselves from the dreamy stupors we may have permitted to take hold in us.

Advent is exactly that time, a season to recover spiritual clarity. How? By prayer, a little fasting, reading the scriptures, and keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, who illuminates the real world by the light of his truth.

This Advent, let us remember the one who will be knocking at the door of our hearts. Let’s anticipate his coming, and bid him welcome by saying Come Lord Jesus!


Video version here.

John O'Brien, SJ is a promoter of vocations for the Canadian Jesuits.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 22:40h, 30 November Reply

    Thank you John!

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 00:37h, 04 December Reply

    Indeed, there is so much to “distract and confuse”! Coffee….screens…is just is not clear wakefulness! Thank you for that rich reflection and story….always loved C.S. Lewis!

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