Be Watchful! Stay Awake!

In my social justice work, I’ve noticed people using a word in a way that wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Some communities refer to people who seem to actually “get” the challenge that’s present and the action that needs to be taken as “woke.” As in, that person is “woke”; he/she realizes what’s happening; what really matters in this moment; the action that needs to be taken.

I’m working to be more woke in the weeks ahead. For me, a woman of way too many words, that means shutting up and listening, particularly when my dominant culture mind wants to take over and share my “point of view,” something I’ve come to see as, sadly, most often simply a lifetime of programming that privileges my perspective. A perspective that’s too often blindly derived from my race, education, cultures, and social location.

It’s not that having a point of view is bad. It’s just that I’ve come to believe that it often doesn’t forward the action. It can even set it back.

The readings for the first week of Advent, which starts this Sunday with a new liturgical year, exhort us to “stay awake.” On the surface, that challenge doesn’t seem so hard. Digging deeper, it is daunting. It can challenge us to interrogate the places where we are still drowsy, sleeping, and even snoring. This past year brought powerful exposure of racism, sexism, and more. Am I nodding off now, because I’ve heard it before, or because I am overwhelmed? Am I inclined to snooze through this one, a victim of privilege and compassion fatigue? These and other questions push me.

My answer to them is “yes.” You will have your own answer, of course. But I commit, as this holy season begins, to stay awake and watch. And to work to stay woke, come what will.

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!‘”


“Love your neighbor…” Says just about everybody.


Almost every religion and ethical system on this beautiful shared planet of ours has love for one’s neighbor as a centerpiece. 

The great sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel, was approached by a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. The man explained that he would accept Judaism only if the Rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while he, the convert, stood on one foot.  After pausing to think, the humble Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and study it!”

A student of the law came to Jesus, and asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

A Bedouin came to the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, and grabbing the stirrup of the camel said: “O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go!”

The great Sanskrit epic, the Hindu Mahabharata teaches, “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma.“  And the Buddha, not surprisingly, says very simply: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Our teachings remind us that our religious laws mean nothing if they are not anchored in human kindness, in goodness.  Our teachings call literally billions of us, the entire human family, into a spirit of love, a spirit of acceptance, a spirit of care for each other.

At it’s very best, that’s what we celebrate in this national holiday of Thanksgiving. We’ll gather this week with family and friends to express our gratitude for each other and our lives. We’ll use many languages and be grounded in many different religious traditions.  Our tables will groan with turkey and pumpkin pie, biryani and custard trifle, cranberry apple kugel, sweet potato marshmallow casserole,  sabaayad and, at my house, Irish soda bread.

This fellowship and abundance reminds us that while we honor our differences, we also embrace commonly held visions.  It can call us into action, inviting us to continue the complicated and rich journey of becoming more loving, more embracing neighbors. It offers each of us a moment to commit ourselves to seeing those in our midst who still feel frightened or threatened or unwelcome.

When we embrace this day as a mutual recommitment to love and neighborliness, we not only move ourselves forward, but actively contribute in redeeming a holiday that is, tragically, a source of great pain for our indigenous people.

And so with deepest respect for the Lakota people, who lived on this portion of land long before many of our people arrived, I offer this prayer from their tradition as part of our call to gratitude and acceptance this Thanksgiving.

Mitakuye Oyasin, All are Related

“You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.  Thank you for this Life.”

May their prayer be ours.

Trish Sullivan Vanni

Interfaith Circle Annual Celebration of Thanksgiving, November  2017