by Ken Rolheiser
Falling asleep in church is good

If you are ever caught waking up on the job or elsewhere where it might be embarrassing, I recommend you strike a reverent pose and as you open your eyes say, “…we ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.”

I used to be lenient with students who fell asleep in my English class, especially if it was during a viewing of Hamlet or Macbeth. I reasoned that in their high school and the world at the time the tensions and stress on a student could be severe. If they found a place where they could relax from the “hounds”, so to speak, I should be understanding.

The Word Among Us January 2017 discusses ways to meditate in the Lord’s presence in church. St Teresa of Avila said that communion with God “is nothing more or less than a friendly encounter” with him.

The story of Ray illustrates this. With soft music in the background Ray took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and asked the Lord to touch his heart. “Ray felt a sense of peace come over him. It began in his heart and radiated out from there. His shoulders relaxed. He began to smile. His worries subsided.

“He felt nothing but love in his heart, and he knew that it was coming from the Lord… Love warmed his heart and filled him with joy.” Ray wasn’t thinking much, he was being loved much. We can seek that kind of encounter with the Lord in the quiet places in our daily lives.

St Teresa of Lisieux once said that it didn’t bother her if she fell asleep while praying; she felt safe resting in the arms of her heavenly Father. In my New Year’s article I said that sleep can be a prayer. Just as trees change in the silence of the seasons, “Silence calls us out of our minds and guides us to our hearts.” Silence permits the Holy Spirit greater room to transform us.

Sleep, like everything we enjoy in this world, is a prayer we offer to God in thanksgiving or even petition. I remember offering up all the joy I received from a Thursday movie night in our parish when I was a child, and I offered that up for my mother who was suffering a gall bladder attack that evening. And it worked.

I can not think of a more wonderful way of seeking God’s blessings than offering up our sleeping moments as prayer. Inspiration often comes to artists and the rest of us in our sleep.

Dreams can be a way for God to communicate with us, and there are many examples in the bible of how this happens, the most recent of which was the Gospel of the Epiphany about the Magi’s visit: “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road” (Matthew 2:1-12).

Just as a baby feels secure when wrapped in the arms of a parent, we should feel secure when we fade into asleep at night. Falling asleep in the Lord now is a good practise for later.

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