We are like pilots of fog-bound steamers, peering into the gloom in front of us, listening for the sounds of other ships, and we can only reach our harbor if we keep alert.

The spiritual life is, then, first of all a matter of keeping awake. We must not lose our sensitivity to spiritual inspirations. We must always be able to respond to the slightest warnings that speak, as though by a hidden instinct, in the depth of the soul that is spiritual alive. 43

On at least six occasions in Matthew’s Gospel alone, Jesus is reported to have said some version of,

Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:13)

Life is filled with temptations to sleep. It is easy to pass my days in a haze of distraction. I am often a “fog-bound steamer” lost in “the gloom” of my dulled spirit.

The author of the late 14th Century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing, counselled his reader that staying awake, or “paying attention” requires work. He wrote,

Pay attention to this work, therefore, and to its marvellous ways within your soul. When it has been truly conceived, it comes merely as a sudden stirring with no forewarning, instantly springing toward God as a spark from a coal. And it is wonderful to count the number of stirrings that may appear within one hour in a soul that is disposed to the work. (trans. Ira Progoff, 67, 68)

To stay awake is to be mindful of the “stirrings” within my soul; it is to be sensitive “to spiritual inspirations” and responsive to “the slightest warnings that speak as though by a hidden instinct.”

The problem with these hidden inner movements is that they are almost always subtle. God speaks most often in “a sound of sheer silence”, less often in the great wind, earthquake and fire. (I Kings 19:11-12)

If I am going to heed the inner stirring of the Divine in my life, I need to accustom myself to the gentler quieter rhythms of life. I need to step aside for a time from the rush of stimulation, noise, and frenetic busyness of so much of life. I need to nurture stillness and quiet.

What keeps me from heeding the subtle stirrings of the Spirit?

What practices might help me stay awake?

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