Monday, May 26, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
I love to sleep. If I had to worship a piece of furniture, I might bow to the god of sleep on the altar known as the mattress. Most nights, I have no problem luxuriating in eight hours of unbroken sleep. Then comes that odd night. I discover I’m wide awake at four in the morning for no apparent reason.
What do you do while lying awake in bed in the dead of the night? I’ve got a growing suspicion that four in the morning may be the finest hour in the entire day for returning and rest. There is truly nothing that needs to be done at that hour. There we lie like a beached whale, wiggling and twitching, unable to get back into that delicious ocean of sleep.
Two words for sleepless nights. Kyrie Eleison. They have been whispered quietly in the middle of the night for centuries. I learned these words from monks who taught me to utter them in rhythm with my breathing: Kyrie, as I inhale; Eleison, as I exhale. Once, I asked an old monk why I should pray in rhythm with my breathing. The brother told me that monks considered prayer just as vital to the human spirit as breath is to the human body. That seemed to make good sense.
For years now, I’ve practiced quieting my soul by breathing in rhythm with praying while lying in bed at 4 A.M. The green glow of the digital alarm clock illuminates my bedroom with the reminder of the hour, as I slip over into that inner quietude by breathing two ancient words, taken from the people of old: Kyrie, as I inhale; Eleison, as I exhale. Lord, have mercy.
We all return into a sort of childhood when we sleep. We are no longer in charge. We become vulnerable. Every night, we lay down our defenses and return to a primary state of dependency. For many people, this time of sleep opens Pandora’s box. Out pour our anxieties, unresolved conflicts, embarrassments, shortcomings, goofball self-delusions and the whole mess that sets us apart from slugs and sea urchins.
As Hamlet soliloquized, To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there’s the rub.[i] How often have dreams in the middle of the night awakened you with their terrifying images? Our dream life counter balances our waking life, revealing through night visions veiled truths, repressed fears, hidden agendas, and all sorts of dark-side-of-the-moon mysteries.
Other people simply can’t let it go. They cling to responsibility, to work, to leadership, to all forms of power and thus they also cling to stress like grasping a life preserver. Sleep seems like wasting time. Time is measured by productivity and by making money. For many people, their identity is so tightly wrapped around career and business productivity that time away from work sleeping seems like wasted time.
If you have been troubled by sleepless nights, try breathing two words. Kyrie Eleison (KEAR-ree-ay, ee-LAY-ee-sohn). Unite these words to your breath, inhaling and exhaling your cry in the night, a prayer to God for mercy. Allow that simple ancient breath prayer to gently rock you to sleep, asking the God who never slumbers nor sleeps to settle your fears and embrace you with divine refreshment. God, our Night Watchman, never minds hearing from one of his children, even at four in the morning.
[i] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene I.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Consider my meditation.
Give heed to the voice of my cry, my King and my God,
For to You I will pray.
My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD;
In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. ~Psalm 5:1-3 (NKJV)
I know a few people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D. They’ve told me that one of the treatments for this problem is a specialized ultraviolet lamp known as a SAD lamp. They spend the dark hours of winter basking under their artificial sunlight. I’ve heard it helps.
Like many who live in northern climates, I too wrestle on occasion with bouts of seasonal depression. About twice a year, I find my soul diving into the depths of an inner sea, that dark misty realm lacking in definition, motivation or direction. I swim through this soul time for a few weeks before growing restless and weary of these dark waters. What help can be found for people facing seasonal depression? What simple rhythms of life offer gifts of hope and encouragement to our souls as we encounter various soul times?
The natural order governed by seasonal cycles centers upon the spinning of our planet around the sun. In the same manner, our inner lives are affected by seasons of the soul, cycles orbiting our lives around sources of illumination well beyond our horizons.
The stories that follow step along inner tracks, in and out of days and nights, through seasons across the various times of the soul. As we seek those sources of radiance, in turning and returning, we come again and again into God’s gift of renewal and springtime.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
- Find a garden space near where you live. Go sit there for a while this week and listen to birds.
- Enjoy an afternoon or evening this month with some friends on a porch, a deck, a balcony, a patio or veranda.
- Visit a graveyard or cemetery, honor the memory of one who died, and ponder your mortality.
- Sit on a bench and remember some significant event from the past.
- Enter a church or cathedral sanctuary alone to soak in the silence.
- Go ‘beachcombing’ for the treasures of grace washed up into your life day by day.
- Put on a CD of sacred music while washing dishes and spend time in prayer while in the kitchen.
- Take a "cloister drive" and make a spiritual retreat to a monastery or retreat center near your home.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
For several years, I traveled two hours from my home once a month to spend the day at a Trappist Abbey, located in
As I stepped out of the car on one of my visits, dozens of birds welcomed me in song from the trees about the cloister. A flowering white dogwood seemed caught up in joyful contemplation of her Creator. I can’t explain it. Life looks different from the other side of that driveway. Even the air seems to breathe slower, as if in prayer.
The first time I retreated to Our Lady, I was wakened by the bells. The cloister courtyard hung heavy with an October mist. That same mist hung about my spirit as I entered the Chapel and heard the brothers chants their Psalms to begin the day’s holy work. Much of my spiritual life with God seems to be in a fog. My monthly retreats to the monastery have helped to melt away this fog and gift me with greater spiritual vision.
Later in the day on that first retreat to Our Lady, after several naps, time in prayer and Vespers, I strolled down the driveway with one of the brothers, caught up in a delightful conversation about the spiritual life. The mist was gone, the warmth of the evening sun upon our faces. The Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.[i] These ancient words came to me at Compline that evening. After Compline, monks enter the great silence of the cloister, resting their lives in the peace of God, hearing the closing words of Psalm 4 ringing in the ear of their hearts. In peace will I both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord make me to dwell in safety. These same words keep returning to me as I turn for home along monastic driveways, renewed in my soul as a spiritual friend of God.
[i] Numbers 6:24-25.