Blog Template Theology of the Body: Is there something spiritual about sleep?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Is there something spiritual about sleep?

NPR did a whole segment this morning on our culture's insistence that the powerful, the intelligent, and the effective don't seem to sleep much; we are a culture that glorifies the short sleeper. I think it's true; consider it, from Bill Clinton bragging about his four hours a night to my academic advisor reminding his students of some German scholar who used to read by candlelight into the wee hours, with his feet in a bucket of ice water. It's so mortal to sleep. Subtle reproaches.

But I wonder about sleeping, theologically. A professor of mine used to tell us that "sleep is spiritual," and a denial of the need to rest looked like a Pelagian refusal to conform to the God of grace and rest; I think this professor must have read the great Josef Pieper on point, perhaps in his Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Scripture has a lot to say about rest; God rests, over and over again. Christ retreated and rested. The Psalmist states the words that ring in my head whenever I am caught looking for caffeine at 3 AM: "He giveth His beloved sleep... I will lie down in peace, and sleep, for you Lord, make me dwell in safety..." Whenever I go on retreat, I am reminded that in the original academies, formed in convents to serve the Church, cloistered monks and nuns conformed their sleeping and waking to the careful regimen of their cycle of prayer, with deliberate discipline and high regard for the pleasure and duty of sleep.

...So, I wonder about sleep.