The Gospel imperative this week is to stay awake, to be on the watch for God’s presence in our lives. Staying awake can be a challenge, both literally and metaphorically. Our busy lives—doing school work, participating in extracurricular activities, keeping up with friends on Facebook, working at paid employment—may cause us to fall in bed exhausted at night or to down coffee or Coke to get going in the morning. When we are doing too much, it is hard to be awake, to enjoy, and to give of our best selves. Part of staying awake involves eating right, exercising, and balancing rest, play, and work.
Similarly, when we repeat similar actions or routines in our lives, we fall asleep to their details. Think about the things you do each day without even thinking about them. Your morning routine, walking to class, saying goodnight to your parents. Sure, repetition in life makes things easier. It would be tiring if you had to pay attention every morning as you brush your teeth or comb your hair. But this mindlessness can also mean we get lazy—not getting to those hard to reach back teeth, ignoring the new student who might be desperate for a friendly smile, say goodnight as habit rather than with meaning.
This week pick something you do without thinking and do it differently and with intention. For instance, pay attention to the muscles you use when you brush your teeth and take the time to appreciate what your teeth do for you. Look at those you pass when you walk down the hall, take time to wonder about their stories, perhaps even try moving in a different way, more slowly or faster, walking like someone of a different age or sex. When you say goodnight to your parents, think about the words you choose and what you hope to convey through them. What do you notice by doing these mundane tasks in a new way?
Attentiveness to the everyday fosters wide awake living, but it is not always easy to do. We need tools that help us live wide awake lives. Certainly, a variety of forms of prayer and reflection promote this sort of attentiveness. So, too, does engagement with forms of art—theater, dance, film, music, painting, sculpture, poetry, etc. As educator Maxine Greene writes,
At the very least, participatory involvement with the many forms of art can enable us to see more in our experience, to hear more on normally unheard frequencies, to become conscious of what daily routines have obscured, what habit and convention have suppressed.*
Do you remember the last time a movie made you think about something in a different way? Or when a painting helped you appreciate beauty in the world? Engagement with art helps shake us out of our usual ways of doing and being, so that we can live more wide awake and with more intention.
Wide awake living is not just important for us as individuals. Social change only happens when we are able to think in new ways, and we can only think in new ways when we practice living with imagination and attentiveness. In other words, the problems of today’s world only will be addressed when we learn to see them in new ways.
What type of art do you engage with? When has it helped you to stay awake and think differently?