“5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.”
1 Thessalonians 5:5-6
When searching for inspiration, I often turn to the letters of St. Paul. This week I turned up 1 Thessalonians chapter 5.
You may have heard in the news media about ‘woke’ and ‘wokeness’. And recently, it has come under attack from the far right. And until last year, I had never heard of it. But this phenomenon of awareness has its roots in the scripture of the Old and New Testament. The concept of being asleep to our suffering and that of the masses of downtrodden and abused in our society is as sinful as the perpetrators of such crimes against humanity of which the litany is far too long.
“And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”” Matthew 8:25
As I grew up in and around , Scotland I was oblivious to suffering caused by humanity. But my child’s consciousness of man’s inhumanity to man was brought to the fore through church campaigns for hunger and famine relief and the plight of refugees. When I was 5 years old, our new neighbors were an Indian family who had fled the Idi Amin regime in Uganda. By the age of 12 we were allowed to watch historical footage and dramas about the Holocaust and World Wars. At High school, we learned about the Black Civil Rights Movement and the life and murder of Dr Martin Luther King jr.
We were no strangers to war stories from my mother and her family because every family had experienced the tragedy of war. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock that I experienced on witnessing the horrors of slavery as portrayed in the TV series Roots. About the same time, we were learning about Apartheid in South Africa and the awareness of this racial injustice was equally eye-opening and a cause of outrage to realize that it was still happening in our own lifetime.
Mine was a growing awareness of social and geo-political injustice across the globe and not least by my own small country which had once called itself Great and inflicted the British Empire on the world.
And so, ‘woke’ and ‘wokeness’ for me is about awareness of preventable suffering and injustice in our society and in the world. It is what the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire described as ‘conscientization’. And what gave rise to Liberation Theology in South America from the mid 20th Century onwards with people like the Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutierrez.
So, let us all continue to wake up and stay awake, for it is our Christian duty. And encourage each other in acts of prayer and protest for the good of all God’s children.