As I have ruminated on that list, I realized that I left off one crucial imperative: go to sleep.
Culturally, we tend to view sleep primarily through its effects on health and our ability to be alert. For both, it is critically important. But going to sleep also entails a relinquishing of ourselves to a lack of consciousness, a relinquishing that approximates death.
Though I suspect it’s gone out of favor, the popular children’s prayer from the 1800s indicates as much:
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
As Pope John Paul II points out in his Theology of the Body, sleep has a theological dimension. In Genesis 2:21-22, the Lord causes a “deep sleep” to fall upon Adam, during which he removes a rib and creates Eve. Writes JP2:
Considering the specific language, first it must be recognized that in the Genesis account, that sleep in which man is immersed–thanks to God-Yahweh–in preparation for the new creative act, gives us food for thought….Perhaps, therefore, the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconciousness, as a specific return to non-being (sleep contains an element of annihilation of man’s conscious existence).
The Pope’s point is hardly a universal one about the nature of sleep, as the particular dimensions of Adam’s “deep sleep” are unique to that context. But there is clearly an analog in our own experience of sleep and the “letting go” of our consciousness to the hand of God.
After all, we awake to mercies that “are new every morning,” the first of which is that we awake to experience others.
But the Pope’s language that Adam’s sleep is “preparation” for a new creative act reminds us why sleep is an important preparation for hearing the Word of God. In sleeping we acknowledge our finitude and the weakness of our bodies. And in sleeping before Sunday, we prepare our bodies to hear the creative work of God in his Spirit through the communication of His Word.
Of course, watchfulness is sometimes required. Jesus, as the new Adam, stays awake in the other garden, the Garden of Gethsemane and chastises those who lack the strength to keep watch with him. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
But such times are a joyful intrusions on the rhythms of natural life, rhythms which require restfulness and a joyful acknowledgment of our limitations.
So, in preparing for the Sunday Sermon, sleep well. Sleep deeply. It just might be your spiritual duty.