"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sleep: A Rehearsal for Death

It shouldn't be a foreign concept. Christians everywhere are taught as little children to say an Act of Contrition before they go to bed. The traditional prayer originally read:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray Thee, Lord, my sould to take.

In our modern times the prayer has been cleaned up to avoid the mention of death.

It's a shame.

In fact, nothing so mimics or prepares or rehearses us for death like going to sleep. Little children know this. I think they feel better when we acknowledge it.

It's why they don't want you to leave. It's why they want another drink of water, another story, another prayer, another back rub.

Puh-leeeez. I can hear you think, you know!

I have a major advantage over most adults I know. I have acute memories of childhood. I know exactly what many things feel like to a child because I've never forgotten. To be hurt monstrously over miniscule things.

The intense joy of finding a doll you left under a tree in the park yesterday that you were sure would be gone the next day. To be not afraid but actually terrified of the dark.

Going to sleep is a little letting go of consciousness. Death is the ultimate letting go of consciousness. We reasonable adults understand this difference, but little people feel everything so intensely, they are so consumed by the present moment, every small ending seems so final. And by golly, most kids want to squeeze EVERYTHING out of TODAY.

Ah, how we should envy them.

Many, not all, but especially the very sensitive ones, the deep thinkers, they get frightened sometimes of letting go.

Oh, you can brush off my words, you can, but if you've got a child who resists bedtime every night, you still might consider my suggestions.

I suggest that children, all children, should be gentled to sleep. Not put to sleep or sent to sleep, but loved to sleep. And they should feel safe at night, in the dark. Because somehow, God seems closer to all of us in the dark hours of the day, if only we're noticing. And we want to give children the experience of a God Who is Love.

"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
-Dylan Thomas

"So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

I always get these poems running through my head when I hear mothers talking about letting their babies cry it out, or locking their toddlers in their rooms. And I always think of the Beatitutde- blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted, and comfort the sorrowful (spiritual works of mercy). And I remember that all too soon there will come a day when I will wake in the night and hear...


And I will ache for the days- and nights- gone by.

"Sleep, baby, sleep!
Thy father guards the sheep,
Thy mother shakes the dreamland tree,
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee;
Sleep, baby, sleep!
Sleep, baby, sleep!

Sleep, baby, sleep!
The large stars are the sheep,
The little ones the lambs, I guess,
The gentle moon the shepherdess,
Sleep, baby, sleep!
Sleep, baby, sleep!

Sleep, baby, sleep!
Our Savior loves His sheep,
He is the Lamb of God on high,
Who for our sakes came down to die,
Sleep, baby, sleep!
Sleep, baby, sleep!"

-German lullaby


  1. We studied that Dylan Thomas Villanelle last week. It made me cry.

  2. (I just followed you over here from unschooling catholics.) Lovely words. I just really needed to hear these today since my 3 year old is always thinking of excuses before bed and I've also noticed that if I am gentle with him at night, he goes to sleep much better.

  3. Thanks for visiting, Elisa!

    I miss you, Jessica! Hope your year is going well.

  4. My two year old taught me this. I have learned to lay down with him, read him a book, sing him a song. If that is not enough I bring in my knitting, or just hold him till he is sleeping (or pretty close). He won't want me to cuddle him forever, so I need to get it all in while I can!