I stood in the grocery line and wondered why the cashier was ignoring the customer…
Decades ago when my children were young, I poured out my troubled mother’s heart one afternoon to a dear family friend who was a gifted Christian psychologist. My words to a struggling adolescent son at that time did nothing but backfire, and prayer with him seemed an impossibility. Our friend’s counsel opened a whole, new window for me. It went something like this: “The mind, heart and spirit are extra-porous when we sleep. Our resistances are down and barriers soften…the work of the Holy Spirit is unimpeded. When your child is sound asleep, quietly lay hands upon him (or stand at the door if his age makes that awkward, and lay hands on him in spirit) and pray, “Jesus, bridge the gap between the love he needed today and the love he received. I surrender him to you entirely.” What comfort that “direct line” to a child’s heart brought me, and what fruit, I believe with all my heart, it bore.
Later on in my work as a hospital chaplain, reading of Henri Nouwen’s experience of his mother’s death shed further light on this “night-world” of prayer. When asking the Lord why this good, true and holy woman had such a restive experience of home-going, relentlessly tossing in her coma, he intuited that there was much final work being done. Without distraction, without interference from the outside world, there was the unfinished business of accepting and forgiving, reconciling and resolving, releasing and surrendering in trust, being accomplished. Not only did these insights help me in my ministry with the dying and their families, they fortified once again the powerful inroads of the Holy Spirit possible for us in our own states of slumbered apartness from the world.
My immersion in Gestalt Pastoral Care and its insightful training in the work of the Holy Spirit through our dreams gave further dimension to the absolute sacredness of the night in our lives as Christians. I saw with new eyes the nighttime divine appointments, the activity during slumber, that fill the Bible. The Hebrew mind, uncompromised by our western “enlightenment,” absorbed, trusted, acted–Jacob, Solomon, Daniel, Nathan, Laban, to name only a few of the Old Testament dreamers, and of course St. Paul, St. Joseph, and the Magi, among others in the New Testament. The vulnerability, the fertility of hearts, minds, spirits, given over to the Holy Spirit in sleep is profound!
Neither deep comas nor earth-shattering dreams, however, are required ground for the the One who “slumbers not nor sleeps” (Ps. 121:5) to be at work in our souls. It only makes spiritual sense that if, by virtue of our Baptism, “not I, but Christ lives in me,” this Christ is active within us 24-7. “The Lord and giver of life” operates unceasingly in our bodies while we sleep: our hearts pump blood, our lungs breathe, our digestive tracts nourish. “The body reveals the person,” St. John Paul tells us; we are body-persons indwelt by the Spirit, and that body/spirit unity tells us that just as our physicality is sustained unremittingly by God’s action within, so is our spirit. We are His beloveds, and He is continually at work “strengthening us in our inner being” (Eph. 3:16), wooing us to Himself to heal us, to save (salve) us, to remedy us, to love us out of our shame, our sins, our wounds, our distortions, so that we can be His bride “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27).
We seek to grow in conscious awareness of our spousal union with Jesus when we are awake–to “practice the Presence,” as Brother Lawrence advises–but are we tuned into the reality of life lived in the Spirit as we sleep? Psalm 16 (7) tells the tale: “I bless the Lord who counsels me; even in the night my heart instructs me.” We read in psalm 19 (3), “Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.” The Song of Songs goes deeper still, describing the rapture of encounter with the Bridegroom of our souls as we sleep: “Wine flowing straight to my Beloved, as it runs on the lips of those who sleep.” Father Blaise Arminjon, S.J., illuminates this passage so movingly in his The Cantata of Love, describing the dialogue between Jesus’ Heart and ours as “a continuous ebb and flow between us…from my heart to your heart, from your heart to my heart. And even in the night, when I sleep, the same wine of love comes and goes, straight and without any intermediary between us as it does between those who share the same sleep of love. Between us, at every time of day and night, are exchanged and mingled my wine which is your wine, my scent which is your scent, my spirit which is your Spirit, just as you had promised–‘I shall put my Spirit in you’ (Ezk: 36:27).”
Could there be a more enticing invitation to open our hearts to our Bridegroom in a very conscious way before we drift off to sleep? We make our “Morning Offering”–let us make a “Nighttime Offering” as well! Deeper, stronger, truer than the fears, the anxieties, the loneliness that night can bring on when the day’s distractions are lulled is the promise, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Rom.8:26). Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, has been given us as our Mother. What mother does not know the heart-throb that comes from tip-toeing in and watching her child sleep in all his vulnerability and innocent trust? This is but a shadow of Mary’s gaze upon us. Let us pray with expectant faith, for ourselves and for those we love, that the Lord will use our sleep–one-third of our lives!–to “complete the good work He has begun in us” (Phil. 1:6). As children we prayed, “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this night be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, to guide. Amen.” Beautiful. Perhaps we could consider the following prayer, encouraged by exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger, a grown-up version. What a tender, powerful way to invite the sacredness of night:
Into thy hands, Mary, I commend my body and my soul.
I ask thee to provide for them and to protect them.
I ask thee to protect them from the evil one.
I ask thee enlighten my mind, strengthen my will, and refrain my appetites by grace.
Our Lady and St. Michael, call down from Heaven the legions of angels under your command to protect me;
I ask of thee all things I ask of my Guardian Angel.
My guardian angel, under thy intellectual and volitional protection I place my body.
I ask thee to illumine my mind and refrain my appetites.
I ask thee to strengthen my cogitative power, my memory and my imagination.
Help me to remember the things I should and not remember the things I should not.
Help me to associate the things I should and not to associate the things I should not.
Give me good clear images in my imagination.
I ask thee to drive away all the demons that might affect me while I sleep (or throughout the course of the day).
Help me to sleep and, if thou should deem it prudent, direct my dreams.
Help me to arise refreshed.