The Church where Adele/I met used to sponsor what they called a Watch Night Service each New Year’s Eve. As a teenager I thought, “Hmmm. This is sort of like a lock in, only without all the fun and cool stuff!”
A week ago now I thought about looking for a Watch Night Service to attend – sort of a nostalgic moment on my part. But, I opted for family, food, a long and passionate game of Skip-Bo, Dick Clark, a toast, and a prayer. Good Choice!
However, I did stumble across a little Watch Night history that caught my attention. Did you know the practice of Watch Night Services actually began in conjunction with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation? Me either! Here’s the short version:
Slaves across the south land stayed up the night of December 31, 1862 in anticipation of the proclamation taking effect (midnight, January 1, 1863). They prayed and sang into and through the night. The irony of it all is, when those slaves awakened the next morning they returned to their labor, still living on the land designated by their so-called owners.
Yet, something significant had changed… on the inside. These men and women, created in the image of God, were now free.
Their circumstances had not changed, but their realities had!
This heart-change emboldened them to a holy discontent. It allowed them to dream of a better day – a different reality… not just in the world to come, but in this one as well.
I realized, as I read, this is the journey of my own soul. I disappoint myself, those who know me well and love me anyway, and God, all-too-often. In fact, it seems very much like a slavery to me… like I am somehow compelled to miss the mark.
Truth be told, I was that way – enslaved, compelled. But, my emancipation from that slavery went into effect years ago. And, over the course of a number of mini-steps and a couple of giant leaps I have come to know about and embrace that emancipation.
Still, I find myself surrounded by the world of my previous slavery and, as a course of action, sometimes slip back into those disappointing habits and lifetime hang-ups.
The temptation, on those occasions, is to lament, “Oh well, that’s just the way I am.” But I am more convinced than ever that what I really must do is stay up and watch the clock change! I need to think differently – to think: “I am now free.” Regardless of what the external circumstances might present in the moment, I must embrace the truth.
I must change on the inside. This is a matter of identity! Until my teen years I was pretty much at the mercy of my parents schedule. But, as adolescence gave birth to some measure of independence, I found myself in social settings apart from them. Every time I would leave the house my dad or mom would say something like this, “Remember who you are.”
I didn’t think about it at the time, but they could have given me a long list of do’s and don’ts… places to go and those to avoid… instead they opted for one big picture instruction that, if fully realized, would take care of all that other stuff: remember who you are.
Those southern slaves awoke on January 1, 1863 seeing themselves as free men and women, regardless of how those around them saw them. I need to awake each day of 2011 seeing myself as the child of a King – a joint heir with the Anointed One – a citizen of a very real Kingdom. AND, I need to live this year remembering who I am.
I must also choose a holy discontent rather than acquiescing to be wholly discontent. It is easy to do the latter… “oh well, that’s just the way the I am. I am not happy about it. I’m just stuck with it.” – wholly discontent.
The former is harder – it is still to be discontent, but not the kind of discontent that leads to cynicism or despair. Rather, it is the kind of discontent that kicks me in the seat of the pants – shakes/wakes me from the dumbstruck slumber of ordinary days. It is a kind of discontent that motivates forward – that realizes the truth: I am better than this – other than this.
One of my favorite definitions of holy is other-ly. If I am other-ly on the inside, it is bound to spill out once-in-a-while this year. I’ve just got to watch for it!
Finally, I must allow myself to dream of a different day – a better day – in this dimension, not only the next. The sadly beautiful spirituals of the slaves of the south longed for a future day – a time in heaven when things would be different. The same sentiments made up the words of the gospel songs of my grandparents and parents coming out of the Great Depression.
They were songs of a different place and time – of a sweet bye-and-bye. They are the legitimate longings and hopes of 4th dimensional pilgrims. BUT THERE IS MORE to be had on this faith quest… There is “abundant life” right now!
So, one week in, here’s my own hope for 2011 – I want to live an emancipated life: right now. I want to watch for it every, single day. I want to hope, to sing, to awake, and to embrace a new identity. I know it won’t be easy, but I am convinced it is pretty simple. Want to join me on that journey?