Giving up the Sleep of Death

Brother Irénée Jonnart, abbey of Chevetogne (Belgium)


‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will be the coming of the Son of man’ (Matthew 24.37): to identify the good news of salvation with the violence of a flood engulfing all living beings is hardly acceptable. At least we should discern behind this apocalyptic picture the arrival of a new world, regenerated and rich in promises – beginning with the promise of the Lord never again to repeat such a destruction (Genesis 8.21)!

In fact the gospel context invites us rather to understand the reference to Noah as an appeal for vigilance and confident expectation of a happy event, already to be welcomed. However, for this it is necessary to wake up. Of course the world is asleep, not so much in appearance, for yesterday and today people were ‘eating and drinking and marrying’. But there is a difference between a biological existence – and of course it is indispensible to nourish ourselves and to procreate – and a fulness of life consisting of joining the trumpet-call of a thrust which comes from something outside oneself and acts on a person irresistibly – like the movement of love.

It is this fulness of life which links to Noah entering the ark, symbol of the deepest human interiority. In this sanctuary is found the source of light and life, the switch which we must plug into. This is also where the Son of man resides. Thus we must welcome the Life which is dozing in everyone and puts oneself at its tempo. This initiative demands a purification, and that is the significance of the Flood. A bath of regeneration at the heart of the primeval waters, those of the first days of the world and those of the fetus, a baptism which brings back to life and the profound memory not only of the origins of life in oneself but also its progress.

But what of other people, those situated outside the arc of salvation: ‘two men will be in the field, one will be taken, the other left’? Here, as each time two opposing types of people are contrasted with each other in the gospels, it is plain that the two are one, merely two aspects of the same person – that is, ourselves!

Also it is a matter of purifing the old man residing in each of us in order to make room for the New Man, raised to new Life, ready to become a Watcher, that is, someone vigilant, not so much someone in a permanent state of alert as ready to counteract his own inertia and his preconceived ideas of what will happen, for ‘the hour is coming when you do not expect it and the Son of man will appear’. Not settled into a preconceived scenario but open to whatever comes. That embraces the rest of humanity, for being alert includes also taking a turn to looking out for others.

This is what Noah has to teach us: he is conscious of a certain responsibility for the arrival of a new creation. In consequence all human beings are invited to experience that the purification of the world and the spread of Life in its fulness passes through their own interior life and comes into being by their own state of alertness.