The Sleepless Hours

The sick and the elderly will know what I mean: those long stretches of the night when sleep evades one’s eyes and one listens to every raspy breath and feels every little thump of the heart, all the time pondering seemingly intractable problems, great and small. After a while, we stop counting sheep or reciting every poem we have ever known and learn to make a friend of our sleeplessness. That is when the sleepless hours take on the quality of a vigil. It is not time lost or wasted but something very precious. We are at one with the night, with the soft darkness that holds so much mystery as well as the promise of a new dawn. We may pray, or we may not; but it is a prayerful time, when we come close to eternity and all the world’s hopes and fears are, in a sense, entrusted to us. Benedict was keen on night prayer, seeing it as one of the distinctive marks of the monk. For, beautiful as night is, it is also a time of sin and suffering when what we call the powers of darkness stalk the earth. Our wakefulness may seem like a small match-stick, easily blown out; but it is, if we will allow it to be,  a little light in the darkness, a tiny hope, a sign of redemption.