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Starting Point

The answer is a good night’s sleep


I was talking with a Jesuit friend the other day. In the course of our conversation I asked him: “Wasn’t it Andrew Greeley who said that Catholics have sex more often and seem to enjoy it more than others?” “Yes, it was,” he replied. “Well, I’d like to add another to his list,” I said. “Sleep. Catholics should sleep sounder than other Christians too.”

“But if they’re always having sex, how are they going to sleep?” he humorously responded. “Afterwards,” I replied. “Afterwards.”

Our conversation had its beginnings in a book we had been discussing, Thomas Groome’s What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life. While speaking to the church’s sacramental worldview, Groome shared the sage advice of an old friend. Regardless of the issue he raised, Groome’s friend would ask: “Are you getting a good night’s sleep?” Though resistant at the time, Groome has come to appreciate the point: “With a good night’s sleep, everything looks different and usually a bit brighter.”

Yet, studies appear to indicate that we are a nation that is, along with a host of other maladies, sleep deprived. Rather than a reality, deep, relaxing sleep truly is a dream for many people. Our 24/7 world has convinced people that sleep is a luxury they can ill afford. Sleep is for the weak. As the adage goes, “You snooze you lose.” Ah, but at what cost?

In the classic Catholic understanding of anthropology (the way we see the human person), as opposed to our Protestant brothers and sisters, the human person is seen as fallen but redeemable. As Groome writes, “Catholic Christianity tips the scales to the positive side, however slightly. Essentially, humankind is more prone to choose the good, the true, the beautiful than the evil, false and ugly.” With this vision in mind, instead of being stricken with a chronic case of insomnia after the wondrous act of creation, God sleeps. What more could be done? All was “good.” Despite what could happen, and eventually did happen, God rested.

Humanity resists, however. Sleep is too great an act of surrender, or faith, on our part. We still hang onto the falsehood that “if I give up control, let go of my power, things will go to ‘Hell in a hand basket.’ ” Our role, we tell ourselves, is just too vital. Thus, our grasp becomes too tight as well. One writer and poet who explored this fear on the part of humanity was the Frenchman Charles Peguy. My Jesuit friend brought him to my attention. In a poem titled, “Sleep,” Peguy voices God’s frustration, anger, even disappointment, at this sleepless state of affairs:

I pity them. I have it against them. A little.
They won’t trust me.
Like the child who innocently lies in his mother’s arms
thus they do not lie
Innocently in the arms of my Providence.
They have the courage to work.
They lack the courage to be idle.
They have enough virtue to work.
They haven’t enough virtue to be idle …

As the sun sets and the sky darkens each evening, we are invited to give up control (as if we ever had any to begin with) and make an act of faith. Whatever fears or anxieties we have, God says, “Give them to me. I’ll take care of them. Rest.” As the father of two small children, this is no easy task. Rarely do I go to bed so freely. Concerns of staying afloat at work or falling behind at home often plague me. I’m starting to see though that sleep can be a moment of grace. A gift of God’s friendship.

If only I had God’s optimism in humanity. What other choice is there though?

Mike Daley teaches theology at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

National Catholic Reporter, January 17, 2003