Delivered to Graduate Students.
It may be hard for you to believe. It is especially hard for me to believe, but I was once a young man myself once. I was like you once, ending the great chasm of life called childhood, preparing for an unknown future in a world of dubious merit ... a world that I had no conception of.
This year I will be turning 60 years old and my body has parts that click when they move. You’ll get there too, one day. It is interesting that the body, which once seemed such a solid fact of permanence, now seems to indicate that it is much more temporary than we expected it to be. Please pay attention to it and treat your bodies well.
As people leaving childhood and entering a larger world, you need to know that you are guarded by a God who takes great pride in you, whose son Jesus Christ regards you as family and who the Holy Spirit companions every day. You are on the watch list! The Lord is your shepherd and this mission of his is to continually enlarge your world and make you more and more like himself every day. This fact will occasionally blow your mind.
I called this message “Time to Wake Up” because if you haven’t done this by now you should be waking up very soon.
When I was 14 years old I was sitting in the back of drama class and I was staring down at my notebook with my eyes crossed, my eyes fuzzed out with inattention. I had been reading earlier about people living their lives in daydreams as a way of avoiding reality, and how once awakened from one’s own sleep you could walk along the sidewalk and see the daydreams in people’s eyes crossing their eyes as they slumber-walked along.
Something in my brain clicked, and suddenly I could see my teacher and the class switch on, into Technicolor and 3-D, so to speak. I was aware of my hands resting on the desk, aware of my feet on the floor, and the languid heat and light coming from between the window blinds, warming my face. My own change of state, this new and thrilling awakeness, experienced in the classroom and for the remainder of the classes and the next few days, became dazzlingly detailed and precise.
This, I understood, was real wakefulness — not just tumbling from the sleep in bed into the anxieties and imaginations of daydreams in waking sleep, this was being awake, really awake! Being really awake may truly rescue us from the tangle of dreams. This is much of my life as I approach my sixtieth year. I try not to miss any adventure, or moment for the real to be seen and appreciated and for Christ’s presence to be manifest within it.
So, from that day on I have worked to be the disciple that the Lord wants me to be, the disciple attentive to the beauty, the subtlety and the teaching of life. Because at any moment Jesus may speak, and we may miss his teaching. We may miss his own self, appearing in our lives.
A life awake is a stream of moments that scintillate and flash in a cloudless night sky. I made a list of some moments of mine in no particular order. I would advise you to do this as you go along. Your bucket list is already appearing before your eyes.
I was chased by a tornado driving between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
I’ve flown aloft in a glider and went into a dive, hurtling straight down towards the earth before pulling out and back up.
I nearly drowned on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, in 100 feet of water, being circled by sharks.
I had the American Space Shuttle land in front of me at Edwards Air Force Base, and I took photos of the astronauts when they posed for a number of us.
In Minnesota, I went inside a cage with a tiger in it; it was very playful and bit me.
I was a newspaper restaurant critic in California for about three years and ate at the finest restaurants — for free.
I saw Mount Saint Helens erupt from my office in Portland.
My car caught fire when I was sitting in it, after I had just filled it with gasoline. After I broke down, going uphill to visit my mechanic.
I sailed around the shores of the Apostle islands in the great Lake Superior in a beautiful sailboat, at night, with the islands craggy with skull-shaped rocks that made a loud gurgling noise. The moon rose above the waves with a blood-red color, and the northern lights switched on like cold neon fire, sheets of green, yellow and blue that lit the sky.
I went to Bethlehem and kneeled in the stable building that had a star marking where Jesus was born. I touched the golden star on the floor with both hands and prayed.
I went to Jordan and went to the baptismal spring on the Jordan where Jesus was baptized, and put my feet in that same river.
I sat next to Bill Murray at a movie — and pretended to be cool and not recognize him (this was a stupid thing to do).
I played in an Easter Play “The Witness” at the Schnitzer in Portland where I was the narrator.
I sat in the pub in England, called the Eagle and Child, in Oxford, where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and read to each other “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings,” respectively.
I nearly blew a hole in myself when a pistol I was shooting misfired.
I met the Dalai Lama at Los Angeles party and shook his hand.
I went to Petra, in Jordan, the Lost City that featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark — and lost the party of folks I was with. I wandered around for a while before I found them.
I had a camera inserted into my thigh and poked up into my heart and saw my heart beat on a giant TV screen.
First and foremost, I had an encounter with the living Christ that changed everything. After that life has had a movement forward into brighter and brighter amazement.
You are alive, you are called to awaken and follow the same Bright Star of Christ from the stable to the empty tomb. Go forth and get busy. It’s a heck of a ride!
Colin Brown is pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.