A Sleepless Night and a Good Night

After a certain age, sleepless nights become commonplace. We may lie awake pondering the awfulness of Ebola and the sluggish international response; or we may toss and turn over some more immediate, personal problem concerning family or finances. I wonder how many of us, however, register the sounds of night-time. Here in the country, where traffic slows almost to a stop, the soft soughing of the wind and the snuffles and shrieks of small creatures mean that the night is never completely silent. The nocturnal soundscape has its moments of violence—the high-pitched bark of the vixen or the scream of the rabbit caught by a predator are not easily forgotten— but the general impression is of life proceeding purposefully on its course. Our lying awake is part of that process, not to be resisted or fought against, nor always to be filled with displacement activity (think, cups of tea and the radio). In Christian tradition, the night hours are specially privileged times of prayer. They form a kind of desert moment in our busy lives. Peter of Celles loved the long winter nights when he could give himself more completely to seeking God without the interruptions of business or people. We can all learn from him. Whether sleeping soundly (no barriers to God) or lying awake watchfully (keeping vigil), we can still claim to have had a good night. The important thing is to have allowed God some share in it.

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14 thoughts on “A Sleepless Night and a Good Night”

  1. Living in a semi-urban area, but beside a large park, we don’t escape the night noises of wildlife. Foxes are quite prevalent here and we probably seem more of them than those who live in the countryside. They’re particularly noisy at times and inhabit our gardens and the wooded areas of the park and are quite fearless with humans, which I don’t think is a good thing for their safety.

    Living on a north-south route (although not a main road) we get our fair share of emergency vehicles at night (Fire Station at the top of the road) using sirens and the occasional hum of a late night car going by, but with double glazing road noise is minimal.

    I often lay awake in the early hours and wonder about purely human things and offer them back to God in prayer. Somehow the moments before sleep when I pray and those night prayer times seem quite precious. While not deliberately sought, they are welcomed as part of the richness that we’re offered to spend quiet, restful time alone with God and our thoughts.

    Unexpected blessings perhaps.

  2. Thank you so much for this 17th October reflection, Dame. It resonates perfectly with me. I am of that age now where there are periods of an hour or so during the night when one is lying awake. I fumble for my rosary beads and end up saying one or two decades at least. Living in a quiet backwater but in the heart of the City the sirens of ambulances and police can be heard through the night as well as the scream of the vixen or of cats meeting others on their night prowls. However, I am always thankful to God when I awake in the morning that I have been given the gift of another day.

  3. I recall a lovely French Cistercian who said he always prayed the Night Office in solidarity with those awake because they could not sleep for pain, distress or sorrow.

    • That is lovely, I only once suffered from insomnia, it made me mindful of those who had to carry the burden of their physical or emotional pain through the dark night hours.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful and gentle post. I have learnt through much angst that sleeplessness is a time to treasure and can be regenerative, provided that we offer it up.

    It is also a time when the truth about many situations, whose facets blind and distract us during the day, will crystallise. As the Psalmist says: ‘In the night my inmost self instructs me.’ That ‘inmost self’ is where God resides.

    As mentioned by a commenter above, it is well worthwhile – and brings personal peace – praying for those who suffer during the dark hours. As a lay person, I use the Rosary and pray for the intercession of Our Lady and her visitation to those people.

  5. This is very helpful to me. Due to a long illness I often have sleepless nights and simply lie awake angry that I am going to be exhausted the next day. I just can’t accept it. People have said to try prayer, which I have, but it doesn’t seem to help. My aunt is a Carmelite and she says she prays the rosary if awake at night but I told her I am not like her – I don’t have her serenity. But I will remember this next time it happens and just try and listen to the night, and to God. I love the night – it’s the best time to be with God. I want to be happy to not be asleep – just like a saint would!

  6. I’m with the people for whom a sleepless and anxious night is made more frustrating knowing that I will be tired the following day. Normally the day to come will be of difficult things – the things keeping me awake as a I fret about them. I do find a complete switch of concentration (normally a book) does help.

    Next week though, it’s night shifts! I guess it’s worth remembering in nighttime prayers the nurses, taxi drivers, engineers and others who work all night to keep things ticking along; as well as those who just can’t sleep.

  7. By any chance do you have at hand a citation for your reference to Peter of Celles? He is an attractive figure about whom I would like to know more.

    • The Letters of Peter of Celles, Oxford Medieval Texts, though I think there are other translations. Sorry I can’t give you a reference to the actual letter — we no longer have access to the book.

  8. What a lovely, thoughtful, gentle post. Thank you. My sleep is sometimes very disrupted this year owing to illness: next time I have a ‘bad’ night, I will remember what you have said and try to see it as keeping vigil with the tawny owls, the fox, the other sleepless folk – and the Lord. A comforting thought.

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