By Michelle Francl-Donnay
I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Ps. 4:9
Last Thursday morning, the high school principal found Chris and his friend, asleep, on the floor outside their first block classroom. “Is everything OK?” he wondered. Roused from his slumbers, Chris responded with a laconic, “Tech week.” Those two words explained much. The principal left the two to drowse away the last few minutes before the bell rang.
The school musical opens on Friday and rehearsals are in full swing. Chris is both performing and working as tech crew: alternately singing up a storm on stage and hauling huge pieces of scenery around behind the scenes. Mike is managing the technical end of the production; with a word whispered into his headset, he can cause witches to appear in mid-air and set a darkened stage alight.
There is no shortage of creative energy flowing in my house – this crew can get a paper mache cow to give milk. Sleep, however? No one is getting very much. That includes the parents who late each night collect the exhausted thespians, and sit vigil with them as they face the homework due the next day.
As Chris crept off to bed late on Thursday night, declaring he would fall asleep as soon as he was horizontal, this verset from Psalm 4 ran through my mind. He would indeed sleep in peace, his work for this day finished, his school bag packed for the next.
St. John Chrysostom, in reflecting on this psalm, would agree with Chris. Those who live virtuously, who possess God, will “in their waking hours enjoy life and at night rest with great satisfaction.” A clear conscience (or completed homework) doesn’t nag at you in the quiet hours of the night.
Yet there is more than just the rest of the righteous in the image of repose the psalmist evokes here. Recently, a friend lent me a little book of pithy advice on prayer by Benedictine Keith McClellan. Number 33: Sleep is the prayer of those who rest secure in God.
In his commentary on the fourth psalm, St. Augustine proposes that sleep is a metaphor for the presence of God. Just as we close the door and pull the shades at night to shut out any commotion on the street that might disturb us, Augustine suggests we foster a similar attitude with our interior world. He might be writing about our own time when he laments the ways in which a world that clamors noisily at the gates, which measures worth in terms of possessions, leaves us fragmented.
Augustine urges us to forgo the “countless images” and demands that take our gaze away from God. Cultivate a simplicity of heart, let this be the cloak we might wrap around ourselves to shut out the world and rest in God.
As the mid-point of Lent approaches, I wonder if I, like my kids, epically short of sleep these days, might look to Augustine’s wisdom. The exterior world makes many demands, fragmenting my attention and my patience. God has but one desire, that I rest in Him alone.
Can I turn off the computer with its countless images and burgeoning inbox, close the book, ignore the laundry, and sleep – secure in God? I suspect it would be harder than giving up chocolate, and likely bear more fruit.
Lord our God, restore us again by the repose of sleep after the fatigue of our daily work: so that, continually renewed by your help, we may serve you in body and soul. Through Christ our Lord, Amen. – Closing prayer from Thursday Night Prayer
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103