Awake, Woke and Ready

Advent, the season leading us up to Christmas, is a time of waiting, of expectation, of moving towards.  A time when we are called to be awake and watchful.  As the well-known chorale, echoing Isaiah, urges us, “’Sleepers wake!  For night is flying.’  The watchmen on the heights are crying, ‘Awake, Jerusalem, at last!’”

Does that mean being woke?  Surely not.  To be called ‘woke’ is an insult hurled by those who think that someone is trying to be ‘right on’ as regards all the social issues trending at the present time.  Surely it has nothing to do with us Christians and our journey from darkness into light.

African American writer Bonnie Greer tells us that “….woke is, of course, African American jargon which goes back further than recent years.  Further than political correctness.  And its meaning is quite beautiful. 

“It means being awake to not only the possibility of escape from inhuman conditions, but of being awoke to the Divine.  To transcendence.  It is also about being awake to nature, to the sky and the trees and the air.

“Those of the enslaved who could, escaped using a series of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.  One of the ways to chart the route north and therefore to freedom, was to keep the constellation Polaris in your eye and in your mind.  Escaped slaves, travelling along the route, had to move at night.  To get out of the South and to freedom they were told to stay awake – to be woke – and to ‘follow the Drinking Gourd’.  This is another term for the Big Dipper, that large asterism which consists of seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major.  Four define a bowl, three define a handle: the drinking gourd.  Within it is Polaris, the North Star, the pointer to freedom.

“I can remember being told by elders to ‘stay woke’, i.e. watch how I proceeded through the world, how I treated people; how I was treated.  I had to remember who I was; where I came from and what that all meant in the scheme of things.” (The New European #232, 18-24 February 2021)

That sounds a pretty good reason to be woke.

Chris Dawson

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