A Sleepless Night

The elderly, the sick and the parents of new-born children tend to be more familiar with sleepless nights than most people. When in ‘holy mode’ I advocate trying to pray. Nothing is more likely to induce slumber than turning mind and heart towards the Lord at an unexpected hour. Alternatively, one can listen to the BBC World Service (I learned more about lithium last night than I ever dreamed possible), finish the last chapter of one’s current book or three, or toss and turn as one reflects on the various difficulties and anxieties facing oneself or those one loves. Once one has exhausted those possibilities there is nothing left but to listen to the sounds of the house and of the night.

We are fortunate to live in a converted barn on the edge of the Golden Valley, a beautiful part of rural Herefordshire with a long monastic history behind it. The old oak timbers of our house are constantly moving slightly: they creak and groan softly, and when the wind and rain blow, as they did last night, they utter a quiet protest. The garden makes its own response. I love listening to the snuffles and squeaks of whatever is abroad in the night-time, beginning with bats at dusk and moving through a whole range of owls and rabbits and foxes, with the occasional rough bark of a deer or perhaps the husky note of a badger out on patrol.

There is more to this than finding a way of passing time. To listen to the sounds of night as they come from house and garden is to reconnect with the world in which we live and for which, often enough, we have no time except when we make a point of going for a walk or doing some gardening. I can’t do either of those, so listening to the soundscape of where I live matters. It is another way of seeking the Lord — and being found by him. A sleepless night may leave one feeling tired and crotchety next morning, but it is never wasted. It is an opportunity to be relished.

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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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail