Many of us do not get enough rest. Go to the office in the morning, or to school, or to the coffee shop to meet friends, and at least one person is yawning and another reports not sleeping well lately and someone else nods sympathetically and pretty soon the secret is out. Someone has started going to bed at 8:30 p.m. in order to get eight hours of sleep in between the other hours of lying awake. Someone else admits not ever getting to bed before 2, either because they were up chatting with friends on FaceBook or doing homework or watching a movie or because of those earlier hours of lying awake. If this is a group with a sense of humor, someone will admit to having fallen asleep at the office, arm on a corduroy jacket, so that the corduroy lines were still there when the boss came in and woke them up. With a client in tow. They hoped that drool was not involved.
Why do we lie awake? Why do we not take our rest, as the blues songs go (hum along now: "I was trying to take my rest.....")? Why is it that only babies "sleep like a baby" and the rest of us only occasionally do so, and when it finally happens, we brag about it in the morning as if it were a conquest of some kind?
Practitioners of contemplative prayer say that their twenty minutes is spent resting in the arms of God. They are not lying awake in the way that I do: they are not listening to a pounding heart or trying slow, rhythmic breathing in order to dissolve the knot in the lungs. I am somewhat of a failure at contemplative prayer, at least the sitting in silence for twenty-minute variety, but I do love my moments of silence, in worship, at home, in silent conversation with a companion with whom I am at ease. Companionable silence, with a friend, or with God. For me, trying to be contemplative usually ends up being a chore, something I must master, a time when my mind goes off in a million different directions and I end up composing a grocery list in order just to try and salvage something from the effort.
But I gather that, even if I do not often experience it as such, contemplation is making room for a very deliberate kind of lying awake, a resting in expectation and assurance that the Holy One desires to gather us to the Holy Self in a place of safety and rest. Which is very different from the usual kind of lying awake, the mind racing and heart pounding variety, where every day problems become mountains and obstacles become magnified and peace is something that other people may have but not me.
And yet a glimpse can be enough. A few moments can be enough. A bell or cello music or a deliberate gathering of kindred souls who paid good money to gather together in a classroom are not absolutely necessary to achieve that/those moment(s) of rest that provides a counter-experience to lying awake. I wonder - if I had more moments during the day of lying awake in peace in the arms of God, would I stop lying awake at night?