Stay Alert! – 33rd Sunday November 14
We are racing toward the end of the liturgical year. A week from now is the Feast of Christ the King. Advent will soon be upon us, the start of a new Church year. We hear end-of-year images and themes in today’s scripture readings. These things are summed up in the Gospel: “In those days, after the time of suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” I
t’s November, the end of the church year. There is gloom in so many places and situations. I’m writing at the time of the climate conference in Glasgow. Hardly a bright time for our world! Even the skies are cooperating where I live. It’s as if the cosmos is cooperating with the liturgical calendar.
There is a welcome verse in the First Reading from Daniel. “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” There is a link between shining and giving understanding. Those who know God will share God with others. That verse from Daniel is quoted by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, in the context of eschatological judgement.
That brightness is in great contrast to the darkness referred to in the Gospel. It may be dark now, but there is still hope and light. November’s gloom will give way to light and hope. We know that, but it can so often feel like a distant memory and a fragile hope. That’s why we need to be alert and attentive to the movements around and within us. The Gospel Acclamation reminds us, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
It’s inevitable that the movements of gloom and brightness outside of us will personally affect us – what we are reading or watching or listening to (these days are taken up with e significant conference in Glasgow. Our world is at risk.). Our mood is also affected by the weather and the skies, our work, our family and friendships, and everything else. Remaining alert means that we are paying attention to all that is happening within and without and around and above and below.
I’ve used the notion of logging before. I find it helpful in explaining discernment. Logging is behaviour that whales exhibit when at rest and appear like logs at the surface. Whales often rest for periods of time under the surface in order to sleep in mainly horizontal positions. However, as they consciously need to breathe at the surface, they can rest only one-half of their brain at a time.
Cetaceans intermittently come to the surface in order to breathe during these sleep periods and exhibit logging behaviour. Logging can occur interchangeably with surface resting behaviour when cetaceans are travelling slowly, which is particularly common in mother-calf pairs, as the young tire quickly during swimming.
It was explained to me by a whale researcher that an advantage of logging is that the whale is always somewhat alert, even while sleeping. Perhaps the invitation from Jesus to stay alert and awake can benefit from logging behaviour. Using a cochlear implant, and being 100% deaf while asleep, I know all about logging. I sleep with my bedroom door wide open, knowing that sudden light will wake me. I wish that I were able to exhibit the same alertness in my spiritual life!