Keeping Watch

Keeping Watch
Epiphany 6

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” As I write this, it has been an interesting week. Cold weather has blanketed much of the eastern United States. It was predicted and utility companies, law enforcement agencies, and emergency responders all were on call to be of service. With sections of major roadways shut down, travelers stranded, and entire parts of states and towns without power, they were needed.

It was also a week where the ridiculous emotion of discrimination made its useless and ugly presence known. With the killing of people in Denmark that seemed to be somewhat targeted due to their religious beliefs and more beheaded simply because their tormenters erroneously think it shows power, it was a week when too many people stopped breathing, their lives needlessly ended.

Yesterday I wrote about the oldest of sacred spires, those in nature. The ancient and today’s growing trees stand vigil over the earth, a testament of what can be as they adapt, survive, and thrive in spite of the weather and what mankind has done to their natural habitat and food sources. The word vigil comes from the Latin “vigilia” which means “wakefulness”. A vigil is not just the state of being awake, the opposite of sleep. A vigil is a purposeful wakefulness.

Prayer vigils are kept as loved ones pray over the infirmed. Candles are sometimes lit, some say simply because the vigil usually lasts long hours and others believing it helps the spoken hopes find their way to a listening deity. Vigils are also said when someone is mourned. IN the Jewish faith, a watch is kept over the body and Tehillim prayers are recited constantly. AS Africans were forcibly immigrated to the New World, they brought with them the custom of someone maintain watch or keeping a vigil with a deceased person until the burial.

The modern-day Italian version of the word vigil has also come to mean “eve”. Christians took the practice of keeping a vigil and applied it to the twenty-four hours prior to their high holdy day celebrations. Thus, Easter Eve known as Easter Even and Christmas Eve have nighttime masses or services said. In some religions, a vigil is kept from Maundy Thursday until the Good Friday services, based upon the religious writings that told of the prophet Jesus requesting his disciples to stay awake with him.

During the Middle Ages, knights and other warriors would sometimes require those about to enter their ranks to hold a vigil. The life of the knight was considered one of great spirituality and the vigil was a cleansing of sorts. Those about to be knighted would then be bathed and dressed in a white robe over which a red robe would be added to illustrate their willingness and expectation of giving their blood for their cause and monarch.

Today the vigil is most generally seen in the days leading up to a big release of electronic products or tennis shoes that are expected to become collector items. The morning talk shows in New York City often have people keeping a vigil for seat prior to an open-air concert by a leading musical group or artist. And yet, people say they have no time to volunteer.

This past weekend two vigils were kept. One was in Hollywood as people sat, claiming their seats to watch movie stars and other notable people connected with the film industry arrive and walk the red carpet on Sunday evening as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded their most coveted prize, the Oscar. This year’s film also portrayed vigils of different types. One honored the vigil a man continues to keep as his body succumbs to a debilitating disease that has taken practically everything except his brilliant mind. Another was in itself a vigil as those involved with the film kept a twelve-year vigil in its making. Another film marked the beginning of the ongoing vigil we all should be a part of – the vigil of insuring freedom and dignity for all people of all colors, the dream that all lives have value and matter.

Another vigil was held in Oslo on Saturday. One thousand people of one faith, the Muslim faith, formed what they called a “Ring of Peace”. They were from different sects of Islam and different cultural backgrounds. They were united, however, is their belief that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia should be stopped. Their vigil was a memorial to those injured and the two killed in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, a protect organizer told those gathered at Norway’s only Jewish synagogue. “There are many more peace mongers than warmongers. There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

We all keep a vigil of our life. We call it living. Sadly, though, some cannot maintain their vigil. They are made to feel ashamed because of their status, their color, their gender, their beliefs, their age, their preferences, their very being. There are many people in the world ready to say “You can’t” and very few shouting “Yes, You can.” Fear of those different or perceived different overrides the vigil we all should be keeping of our being a part of the larger whole that is existence.

At the Oscars last night, screenwriter Graham Moore reveled he almost stopped the vigil of his own life at age 16. In expressing his gratitude, the writer of the movie “Imitation Game” said: “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

None of the trees mentioned yesterday were of the same variety and yet, they have stood their vigil over mankind, giving root to man’s own existence for centuries. They each are unique and were just the tip of the plethora of vigilant trees that live on this planet. They revel in their uniqueness and serve as a shining example to all of us in the vigil that is our lives. We were made unique. We made to have value and we should bask in that – for ourselves and for others. The killing of one who is perceived different, whether by actually taking their lives or by bullying and killing their souls, benefits no one. It is not a sign a of power to take something from another; it is cowardice in action.

Vigils are meditative periods, time to realize what we have and, sometimes, what has passed. I hope you find the sacred in your life vigil today. The first place to look is in your mirror. Then look into the face of the person standing next to you, the face of a friend, and yes, even the face of an enemy. All have their moment of sacred. Then perhaps we can all join in a ring of peace world wide – a vigil for living.


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