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Sleeping the Sleep of the Just

By Hedgehog.

How come I’ve never heard a sermon, nor, to the best of my knowledge, have I ever preached a sermon, ever, in any church, of any denomination, in any country, on the theme of sleep? Weird, isn’t it? After all, we spend one third of our lives sleeping, so you’d think someone would realise that we need a theology of sleep and that we need to preach about it.

We Christian leaders are mostly activists, so it’s easy for us to regard sleep as a nuisance, something which interrupts the flow of our activism. We may not necessarily think Margaret Thatcher was a good Prime Minister, but we do admire her work ethic, often taking as little as two hours sleep per night. Hmm, on second thoughts, that might explain a lot ...!

Seriously though, we’re pretty good on the ethics of our private lives, and we know that there is such a thing as a Protestant work ethic (which is not confined to Protestants, of course). We even understand the idea of play as a spiritual and theological exercise, often quoting John Calvin playing bowls on the Sabbath; and John Bell of the Iona Community has drawn our attention to the amount of partying which Jesus enjoyed.

But what’s our sleep ethic? To manage on as little as possible? If so, is it any wonder that so many ministers crack up with strain and exhaustion?

And how many ministers sleep poorly, fretting about one problem or another, upset by their sense of failure and inadequacy.

Ian Stackhouse has pointed us to the way in which the Liturgy of the Hours ends with Compline, a short, but powerful service late in the evening when we confess our sins of the day, receive divine forgiveness, and ask that our sleep may be deep and soft so that our work on the morrow may be rewarding and good. It’s a time of letting go, releasing into God’s hands all that which is now unalterable history (the day just ended), along with the unpredictable future (tomorrow).

And maybe there’s the rub - letting go. Hands up if you’re a control freak, afraid of what might happen if you’re not in control. And yet - and yet - it’s amazing what happens while we’re asleep: the grass grows, the earth turns, the rain falls, the winds blow, the stars shine and the sun gets ready for another day - all without any help from you and me. Amazing!

So sleep well, sleep easy, because sleep is a gift of divine grace, not a reward to be earned, but don’t forget to preach a sermon on it, so that your people might learn to enjoy, with you and your family, the sleep of the just.

But just before you go to bed, remember to order your copy of Ian Stackhouse’ The Day Is Yours (Paternoster, 2008: ISBN 978 1 84227 600 6), one of the only books I’ve ever read which touches on this important theme. Thanks, Ian.

Hedgehog is a lovable, but sometimes prickly person. If there’s something you’d like to sound off about anonymously, you could be Hedgehog in a future edition of Ministry Today. Short items (max. 1000 words) to the editor by any media (see back cover).


A lovable, but sometimes prickly fellow

Ministry Today

You are reading Sleeping the Sleep of the Just by Hedgehog, part of Issue 46 of Ministry Today, published in July 2009.

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