New Awakening: Restlessness

Today we begin a round of posts identifying signs that we are in a time of new Awakening. The previous posts, which compared our natural waking up each day to awakening spiritually, were meant to say, “When you are awake, you can see what’s going on.” It is what Jesus (and before him, Isaiah) was talking about when he taught that we must have “eyes to see” if we are to recognize that God is doing a new thing. Waking up enables us to see the signs of new Awakening.

The main sign that we are in a new Awakening is restlessness. Diana Butler-Bass reminds us that in history every awakening begins with a breakdown. [1] Walter Brueggemann calls it disorientation. [2] Richard Rohr describes it as disorder. [3] Psychologically and sociologically it is the experience of liminal space.[4] Paul Tournier used the trapeze-artist analogy, calling it the time “between the bars.” [5] Whatever we call it, a new Awakening is a time of restlessness.

But when we have eyes to see, we recognize that restlessness is the portal into renewal. Jesus compared it to a new birth (John 3:1-21). Paul used the same analogy, telling the Galatians that the formation of Christ in us occurs as labor pains (Galatians 4:19). Changing to a universal metaphor, he wrote to the Corinthians that an awakening (life “in Christ”) is a new creation—but one in which the old must pass away in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This should be no surprise to religious people. Taoists understand that “no way” comes before Way. Buddhists teach that suffering precedes enlightenment. Jews understand that darkness precedes light. Christians teach that death comes before resurrection. We say, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” but often without realizing this is a cosmic principle. And when we turn the words into a cliché, we fail to see that a new Awakening emerges from restlessness

All this is to say, an awakening is a paradox. It is when we think we are not in one that we actually are. Restlessness is the seminal sign that God is doing a new thing, that an awakening is underway. The breakdown is, in fact, a breakthrough. The old order of things is passing away, so that the kingdom of God can be more fully present on earth as it is in heaven.

Awakening is ignited by restlessness because it is the overcoming of evil with good. This does not happen without struggle. But it is the labor pain that leads to new birth.


[1] Diana Butler-Bass, “Awakening Now?” in her ‘The Cottage’ eletter, 8/17/20. Her book, ‘Christianity After Religion’ explores this in more detail. Similarly, Barbara Brown Taylor looks at the paradox of awakening in her books ‘Leaving Church’ and ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night.”

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms’

[3] Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’

[4] “Liminal Space,” Oneing Journal, Vol. 8, No. 1, published by the Center for Action and Contemplation.

[5] Tournier uses this analogy in many of his writings. I first read about it in his book, ‘ThecMeaning of Persons.’

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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