Someone said, "I do two very difficult things every day: I get up and I go to bed; and by far the more difficult of the two is to go to bed." In a switched-on world it's very difficult to switch off. Every influence is sending us up: the urgent voices of advertisers, the accelerating speed of travel, the ever faster means of communication. When the first cars came into use, scientists studied the effects on the human body of travelling at 30 m.p.h.! We have left those days behind in a cloud of dust and a screech of tyres. We know very little about slowing down and stopping. Strange to say, rush hour is one of the few times when we have to do that!
    But when you park the car and enter your own house you can really switch off, right? Wrong! That's when you switch on something else, the television. It puts you back on the street, you become a spectator of car chases, break-ins and foul murders, shooting, lying, fighting, lusting, cheating…. You are party to all that till 11 p.m. or midnight, then you turn off the light and expect to go to sleep! Forget it!
    But you have to sleep, whether you are able to or not; so you drug yourself to sleep: you take a sleeping pill, or you get drunk or half-drunk. That just knocks your body out, as if you had been hit on the head; and you call that sleep? You have not been asleep, you have been unconscious, that's all; you have been ill! How can you be awake tomorrow if you are not asleep tonight?
    We have to learn how to go to sleep. Our life is no artificial that we have to learn the natural things, the things that came naturally to all the ages before us. It is 11 p.m. or midnight. Switch off the television, put away the newspapers, or go into another room. You have to begin to creates some kind of ritual of slowing down, quieting the mind, preparing yourself for sleep. You have to find a way that suits you. No one can prescribe for you. But we can make suggestions.
    The last small jobs that you do before retiring, such as rearranging furniture, putting papers or books away, brushing your teeth… do them quietly and slowly, taking your leave of things, and taking leave of the day that is just about to end. That day needs to get a thoughtful farewell as it moves away into history, never to return.
    Nature dims the lights slowly on us, but electric light (unless you have a dimmer) is either full blast or nothing. Why not have a special light for this time: with, say, a 15 watt yellow bulb? Initially it will seem very dim, but your eyes soon adjust and you find that it gives a quiet peaceful light. Sit upright in a comfortable chair (not a television couch) and relax your body. It would be good to have a special corner in which you do this every night. Consciously enjoy the silence and rest. Let the day's tensions ebb away. Feel that you are coming back to yourself. If you feel jittery and restless, know that this is just the speed wobbles of the day; sit it out, wait, rest. If you feel bored, know that this is just the same thing: you have been so wound up and so external to yourself in your activity that when you return now at last to yourself you think there is nothing there. Sit it out. Rest. You have forgotten yourself; ;be reintroduced!
    Place a picture of Christ before you, or any sacred image - a good one, in fairness to yourself, not one that drips with weak sentiment. Hand the day over quietly to God: the day and everything in it, your work, your family, everything, and in a special way your worries. Imagine, if it helps, that you are lifting them off your shoulders one by one and handing them to the Lord. Whether you know it or not, you are praying. As children we were told, "Say your night prayers!" And we gabbled a few prayers as fast as possible. As we bear the burdens of modern life, this won't do any more. It is not enough to 'say your prayers'; you have to learn to pray.
    We were also told not to fall asleep during our prayers. And now in adult life we may discover that unless we pray we may be keeping vigil with the millions of people in the modern world who don’t know how to fall asleep.

Donagh O'Shea OP

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.