“This is the kind of Friend
You are –
Without making me realize
My soul’s anguished history,
You slip into my house at night,
And while I am sleeping,
You silently carry off
All my suffering and sordid past
In Your beautiful
We downplay sleep.
We downplay our need for sleep. We all experience sleep deprivation and its impacts, yet we struggle to make sleep a priority. Even Maslow’s pyramid neglects placing sleep and proper rest in its base of human needs.
Yet we read of God approaching humans during sleep — in dreams, in voices, in rest. Different parts of our brains take the helm while we’re sleeping, so it makes a good deal of sense to realise that we would encounter God differently during sleep. We process daily junk while we’re sleeping, we heal, we nourish ourselves, we allow other systems to do what they need to do that can’t be done during waking hours. Sleep is as intimately a part of who we are as eating or creating shelter.
It’s also a comfort routine and a social routine — spouses sharing sleep space, parents and children, pet owners with their pets, or children with their stuffed animals or security blankets. Sleep patterns are as infused with our social and self-care needs as they are physical needs. Some of us like our sleeping spaces warm, some of us like them cooler (I’ll freeze myself out if I can); some of us like drier air, some of us like more humid conditions; some of us like heavy blankets, while others of us prefer no blankets at all. And have you ever had a conversation with someone about pillow preferences? It’s a religion unto itself, complete with cultural conditioning, expectations, and ideals I can assure you.
Sleep is a rich, necessary part of who we are as humans.
It is during those bright moments of half-dreams that we remember both who we are and the fantastic of who we might be. We open ourselves up to prophecy and pain, to blessings and to curses.
We are also vulnerable.
Reading through Hafiz’s words, there is both awe and fear. I don’t read an intentional consent from God to carry me off during my slumber. Rather, God carries me off whether I want to be or not, no matter how gracious God’s purposes. Part of the terror of sleep is our immediate vulnerability to all that is around us both in our tangible, measurable world and in our dream worlds.
Having recognised that, I doubt Hafiz was trying to point out consent between a person and God. Rather, sleep becomes a mysterious vehicle by which we are transported to ridiculous realms both familiar and foreign. Colours become brighter, dimensions are wildly out of proportion, voices are clearer, and primal urges are beckoning and powerful. And all of these feel to us as long streams of events, and yet they flicker in our brains for but seconds. We find ourselves wandering in entire worlds for but a few breaths.
How reflective of life.
By dipping into sleep, we leave ourselves open to that which terrifies us both in the real world and in the world of dreams. It is a courageous act to sleep. And in our world, it is even more courageous to make sleep a priority. It’s as if I am deliberately painting a “Kick Me!” target on my back.
When our sleep becomes disjointed, our waking hours are the spans when the ridiculous reigns. I’m slowly working through a time in my life when my normal insomnia has ramped up to intolerable levels. Life fragments and becomes unintelligible. Pesky molehills all becomes mountains. I have ended up with entire mountain ranges all built and maintained by small rodents.
Relationships become tiresome and confusing, and something as simple as making a grocery list becomes as perplexing as designing the Eiffel Tower. Without regular deep sleep, my world is not able to function within healthy parameters. No one’s is.
Yet we live in a world that applauds the busy person, the stressed person, the overworked person. We find folks who attend to work, family, and school while putting their rest and sleep needs on hold and we call it balanced. We shame what we perceive as laziness or unused opportunities. Not only that, but we overlook marginalised families who live in communities that demand long commutes and possess few schools or childcare supports. Some of us choose frantic lifestyles, some of us are forced into such paces, and most of us live straddled between the two worlds. We are a world furiously in love with being constantly on the go.
What balance is there is applauding burnout?
We are wired to experience the world so differently during sleep — to experience God differently — what need are we feeding by giving props to ourselves when we bleed ourselves dry? What achievement are we lauding?
Sleep is a mysterious thing. Like food, we partake of it and like eating, many of us experience struggle to find the best way to sleep that sustains us. Insomnia, nightmares or night terrors, children waking us up, shift work, noisy neighbours, long work/school hours, poor health — all of these things can keep us awake night after night. As rich and deep as sleep can be, it can also become a chore that weighs us down. Yet unless we prioritise our need for sleep and accept our need for rest and down time, we will continue to applaud the busy and shun the still.
When I begin to take intentional, deliberate steps to prepare sleep, I begin to discover my deep need of it, its preciousness, its power. I begin to regenerate in every way, from the cellular level to the level of dreams. God thrums a rhythm to daily life through the vulnerability of sleep, carrying me off to the ridiculous realm while at the same time guarding my form lying still for hours.