There is something about being awakened from a sound sleep. It is a moment in between worlds, when you can’t be entirely sure if reality is encroaching in upon a dream, or if the dream has found its way into your perceived reality. Such was the case for me in my tenth year on this planet.
It was April of 1981, a Sunday night as I recall, when the Aurora Borealis ventured south into the Northeastern Arkansas skies. I remember being startled to hear the sounds of muffled excitement outside my bedroom window. I could make out the voices of my older siblings who were now married, but only lived a few houses down on the gravel road in the collection of homes we called Loydville. We were all connected by our last names, but were very different in our temperaments and personalities, and gathering late at night to gaze into the sky wouldn’t have been my first guess for a phenomenon that would bring us together. I knew this was unusual for a Sunday night. We were several hours removed from the conclusion of Sunday night church, and I had fallen fast asleep in preparation for school the next day. Now awakened to the stirring in the community inspired by the celestial lights, I had no context to interpret what was happening. This was out of the ordinary.
As I contemplated the commotion on the alfresco side of my widow pane, the next voice I heard was a familiar one of authority and comfort amid a host of incongruous sounds. “Scot, wake up and come look at the sky!” I complied with my mother’s wishes. Exiting the door and closing it behind me, I saw the ragamuffins huddled just beyond the uneven concrete of our driveway. Just above them the night sky was ablaze with a collection of colors, like a rainbow that had gotten lost on its way to the end of a thunderstorm. The purples, greens, reds and blues mixed and blended in and out of each other like vagabonds dancing.
My siblings speculated with their spouses, Dad said nothing. Mom chimed in, only to confirm that we should all be ready for the coming of the Lord. There were comments bandied about supposing that nuclear bombs were dropping. I remember someone saying, “If they dropped a bomb on Memphis, this might be what it looked like.” I heard the term “UFO” at least twice. It wasn’t all that unusual for us to immediately find the worst-case scenario explanation for what we were witnessing. Apocalyptic hyperbole was kind of our thing, informed by our brand of Pentecostalism, it was quite commonplace to attach spiritual significance to anything we couldn’t explain. I don’t recall feeling awe at the wonderment of The Northern Lights, I wasn’t seduced by the enchantment of the moment, but rather I once again felt an inexplicable terror, a kind of resident fear that found a home in the pit of my stomach.
This was a familiar feeling. I often felt it when left alone to contemplate the implications of worlds beyond my experiences, that I believed to be absolutely real. It was a fact in my life that Jesus was returning, and that for most people in this world, it would not be a welcomed event. For the majority of people who had not subscribed to our belief system, their lives would be made a living hell on earth with not one hope of escaping the wrath to come. If this was indeed the “Coming of the Lord” why were we all still standing there? Shouldn’t we have heard a “Trumpet blast” by now that would have relinquished gravity’s hold upon us? It is ironic that turning my eyes heavenward didn’t inspire worship of the God of creation, but dread at the contemplation of His return.
I was terrified. I did not want to return to my bed alone. I cried. The heavenly lights diminished dismissing our assembly without a doxology. There weren’t any words of comfort or blessing on the departing. There was no commentary on the greatness of the benevolent God who graced us with His manifested glory, only the residual emotions of fear and worry at the thought of His return.
I would venture that for many like me, there are unintended consequences of well-intended religion. A religion that only prepares us for the afterlife but robs of enjoying this life isn’t worth the exchange. Consider all of the time and effort that has been invested in the name of religion to scare people into a piety that is said to be demanded for entry into the world that is to come. But this misguided piety may keep us from the holy and sacred moments that should daily arrest our attention, tantamount to demanding that we refuse to smell the wildflowers that bloom naturally because they are a distraction to the garden that we are planting. Isn’t it possible to enjoy the bluebells while planting roses?
This makes me think of that passage where Jesus instructed “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
I believe we should avoid the narrow focus on the eternal tomorrows without considering the ever-present todays. We should appreciate the beauty of the sky instead of always insisting that it is falling. Jesus will return, but this isn’t something that should keep Him from showing up in our lives today, and as we have opportunity may we bring joy instead of judgement, just like Jesus. This is the transformed reality that emerges when redemptive and restorative dreams come true.
Wake up! Go look at the sky.