The Blessing of Sleep

One of the incidental blessings of my recent surgery has been the ability to sleep ‘normally’ again. After two years of disturbed nights, I appreciate how easily we are affected by aches and pains — and what a pain we are to others when we don’t sleep well!

You can find recommendations a-plenty for how to get to sleep and ensure your sleep is sound, but along with the milky drinks and the regular routines advocated by the sleep specialists, there is one conspicuous absence: the need for a quiet conscience. I don’t mean by that an innocent conscience. Few of us are fortunate enough to live wholly unblemished lives; but although we all sin, we don’t have to let sin define us. We have it in our power to repent, to change, to try to put things right. When St Benedict gives as a tool of good works ‘make peace with your opponent before sunset’ (RB 4.70), he is merely putting into concrete form something he alludes to many times in the Rule: never nurse a grudge, never allow your conscience to become accustomed to thoughts of revenge, see where your desire leads and check it if it is leading you astray.

The old practice of ‘examination of conscience’ before bedtime is a helpful way of reviewing the day’s events. It enables us to give thanks as well as repent of wrongdoing. It can also help organize our discordant and jangling impulses into a programme for tomorrow, when we will try to live more truthfully, lovingly, etc.

Despite years of research we still do not know all sleep’s secrets. Perhaps the most elusive is the way in which sleep fashions our future. We know that the wear and tear on our bodies is repaired during sleep; we also know the psychological benefits of a good night’s sleep and the way in which problems are often resolved without our consciously thinking them through; but what of the spiritual benefits of sleep? Sleep is the one time when we can’t put up any barriers to God, when there are no obstacles to the working of grace. You may not be a monk or nun, but before you go to sleep tonight, try making your own that lovely saying of the Desert Fathers, ‘the monastic cell is like Easter Night: it sees Christ rising’, and quieten heart and mind in readiness.

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4 thoughts on “The Blessing of Sleep”

  1. I like the carefull description “examining” conscience, which is not the same as ignoring grievance,
    Suppressing hurt or giving carte blanch to the badly behaved.

    Many years ago I had to deal with a wrong done to me which had the capacity to seize my attention, and provoke repetitious anger. I learned to face it, take it ” out of its box” examine it, chip away part of its erosive power, put it away for the night and leave it until a similar diminishing process was undertaken again.

    Not all of us can forgive in one leap, so “examination” can help us take small incremental steps.

    I am now on cordial terms with those who once troubled me. “Examination” freed me from resentment.

  2. To sleep is a bonus from someone whose dreams can interfere with sleep patterns. Dreams are had to remember but glimpses or snippets remain, and I find myself wondering what has caused that particular snippet to remain behind?

    It might be about something happening in my life at the moment, it might be about something that happened in the past, where I could have done better, somehow I see them as God’s massaging our conscience to realise that there might still be unresolved baggage to pray about or to address through spiritual direction of by just talking to those who might be there.

    Somehow, each time I come to a point where a decision is needed, I seem to dream more, and some sort of guidance seems there – consciously or unconsciously I’m being prompted towards a right or even a wrong path.

    In the middle of the discernment process as I approached the actual Bishop’s Assessment Panel, it came to the front and I seemed even more formed in the path that I was on. Sadly, the Church didn’t see it that way, but the aftermath was a prompt to be a bit more selective in what I try to take from a dream. Wishful thinking isn”t God’s way – he wants the real thing.

    So, I’ll go on sleeping and dreaming, perhaps a little more enlightened about how my unconscious mind works, but perhaps even how God might be taking us in hand while we sleep to move us along the right path.

  3. Sleep is natures gentle nurse.
    Dreams are central to our gentle nursing.
    The Bible cites many occasions of sleep and dreams.
    Silence, night and dreams is worth listening to!
    (Preisner)

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