Wakefulness and Addiction

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You also should stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at a time you do not expect.
Luke 12: 40

On the news last evening there was a feature story on a young man’s process of undergoing rehabilitation for a severe addiction to heroin. When we first meet the young man, we see someone who is totally turned in on himself. His face is contorted and his eyes are almost always partially closed. Now, after two years of sobriety, he appears radically different. One of the most striking aspects of his appearance is how wakeful he seems and how wide open are his eyes. He speaks with his interviewer in a lively manner, and he attends to the other with an openness and readiness to receive and to respond to what is asked.

Whether or not we have experienced chemical addiction, we all know the experience of avoiding and missing “life” on the one hand, and being awake to life and world and “standing ready” to respond on the other. The great scholar of world religions, Houston Smith, once said that we avoid and ignore the truth of the scriptures by literally interpreting them. In speaking of being watchful for the return of the master, Jesus is speaking not of a remote future but of each and every present moment.

Jesus describes the faithful servant, the awakened and watchful one, as the one who gives the “household slaves” their rations at the proper time. That is, to be watchful is to be of service in accord with one’s call and responsibility. For the Jesus of Luke, authority is always service. So, fidelity to one’s call if one has authority over others is to be awake and attuned to their needs. It is to know the needs of each person at the “proper time” and to respond to those needs. As the Fundamental Principles say:

Stand ready to answer
when asked
if you are available for God
to become more present in your life
and through you to the world.

We tend to lose our wakefulness, to become drowsy and intoxicated, when we forget our call. “But suppose that slave says in his heart: ‘the master is slow in coming.’ So he starts abusing the men servants and the women servants. He eats and drinks and gets drunk.” (Luke 12: 45). So often our various forms of addiction are attempts to find relief from a life that feels as if it is too much for us. Our responsibilities seem to be beyond our capacities, and we feel as if we are alone and adrift, cut off from others and from life. At such times we have lost faith in God and in God’s call in our lives. We have forgotten that if each moment, person, event, and situation is a unique call to us from God, then the response that is called for is always one that we are capable of fulfilling. Responsibilities that seem to be beyond us may well be self-inflicted. As the Fundamental Principles say, the call is to be “available for God to become more present in your life and through you to the world.”

When we are awake, we are an openness and availability to God. So, we trust that God will give to us the ability to respond to whatever the present situation is asking of us. It would be something different for another, but, for us, the need and demand will always be what is possible for us, and for God through us.

We in the United States are coming to the end of what has been a truly debased and debilitating political campaign. The parameters of the discourse are set by the mediators of the culture, and they have been and continue to be chokingly constrictive. We live in a time of social and cultural decay and global peril. Yet, our candidates do not, nor do we as a people, dare to awaken to and confront the actual dangers, and possibilities, of the moment. Our cultural addiction to conflict, celebrity, and entertainment keeps us from facing the calls of the starving multitudes, the forgotten and oppressed, and a distressed planet. We are, as Jesus says in the gospel today, a people “to whom much has been given.” There seems little question that, at least at the moment, we are not living up to those expectations that arise as a result of all we have been given.

As a people and as individuals, our life and our world are not “too much” for us. The promise in Jesus’ words today is that if we are attentive and awake to what the world asks of us, we shall be given that which we need in order to respond. We flee reality through our various forms of addiction because we feel impotent in the face of life. Yet, faith tells us that we can dare to stay awake, because God has given and will always give to us what life asks of us.

Stay awake. Watch and reflect. Work with careful attention. In this way you will find the light within yourself.

All the holy words you read and all the holy words you speak are as nothing if you do not act upon them. Even if you read little and say little but live the right way, forsaking craving, hatred and delusion, you will know truth and find calmness and will show others the path.

It is only through relying on nothing until you crave for nothing, that you will find the freedom of the awakened.

The Dhammapada, vs. 27, 20, 272

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