There is a rest for the people of God. We will soon speak of a rest so profound that it will take us into heavenly realms, both in life and death, but let’s continue our investigation of the great and healthy benefits of proper sleep.
The idea behind Vigils and Matins in the middle of the cloistered night is not a feat of endurance. If those Offices kept resident monks and nuns from continuing in their Divine Office during the day, adjustments would have to be made. (In the summer, in warm climates, a short daily siesta is often ordered and required.) The idea, rather, is twofold: to train the soul to glorify God with “around-the-clock” dedication, and to rise while others sleep to pray over souls in jeopardy and lives in peril in the night hours. To accomplish those ends, good sleep is crucial!
Rest allows cloistered Sisters (and Brothers) to live out their dedication and the arduous demands of their vocation, and it will do the same for us. They are filled with wonder and honor when those on the outside maintain a devotional commitment. They know how hard it is inside! We will have to factor in a little “Conversatio,” certainly, for sleep alone is not the forward motion we desire, but it’s not so easy to put one foot in front of the other, as we’ve said, when we’re too weary to lift our feet, spiritually, emotionally, or physically.
We aren’t our best selves when we can’t keep our eyes open or have to imbibe too much caffeine in order to cope. Sometimes an over-tired body takes weeks to rejuvenate, a proof that we ought to get started, not that we can’t do anything about it. There is a point at which rest is more crucial than fellowship, relaxation, and leisure. Proper rest will elevate all of those.
Almost all accounts of monastic life hold the night hours to be valued as the most sacred and special, next to the Mass itself, when together they celebrate and take the Body and Blood of Jesus. Cloistered monastics will never share the Gospel over coffee with an unbeliever or serve in a soup line, but it would be difficult to match their evangelical zeal, and in their midnight intercession, it shines.
Did you clock your bedtime routine last night? What did it reveal? The Abbess was moving along really well – until she discovered she had forgotten to finish the dinner dishes! Be observant for another day or two, and let’s see what we will discover, what little foxes we might be able to snare!
There is a monastic saying: the nuns have to eat well to fast well, and it is just as true that they must sleep well in order to rest well in the Lord, as they and we must learn to do.
photo from the Abbey files