A Prophetic Ministry of Sleep


What can Christians do for the common good? Sleep more, says Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor of Spirituality at Duke Divinity School, in a 2006 Books & Culture article. On the theological, countercultural value of sleep, she writes:

It’s not just that a countercultural embrace of sleep bears witness to values higher than “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.” A night of good sleep—a week, or month, or year of good sleep—also testifies to the basic Christian story of Creation. We are creatures, with bodies that are finite and contingent. For much of Western history, the poets celebrated sleep as a welcome memento mori, a reminder that one day we will die: hence Keats’s ode to the “sweet embalmer” sleep, and Donne’s observation, “Natural men have conceived a twofold use of sleep; that it is a refreshing of the body in this life; that it is a preparing of the soul for the next.” Is it any surprise that in a society where we try to deny our mortality in countless ways, we also deny our need to sleep?

The unarguable demands that our bodies make for sleep are a good reminder that we are mere creatures, not the Creator. For it is God and God alone who “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Of course, the Creator has slept, another startling reminder of the radical humility he embraced in becoming incarnate. He took on a body that, like ours, was finite and contingent and needed sleep. To push ourselves to go without sleep is, in some sense, to deny our embodiment, to deny our fragile incarnations—and perhaps to deny the magnanimous poverty and self-emptying that went into his Incarnation.

We’d love to hear from pastors who have considered taking up this prophetic mantle, calling parishioners to an earlier bedtime.

Tommy Grimm

(Picture by flickr user Richard Masoner /via Creative Commons)

2 thoughts on “A Prophetic Ministry of Sleep

  1. I hadn’t really thought of sleep this way but it’s really it has invited me to think of it from a different perspective and I found myself exploring a variety of ideas about sleep and came across something from Shakespeare’s Macbeth…
    Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
    The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
    Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

  2. However I was moved by your writing on the differences between The Creator and the creatures inhabiting the earth and concluded that to deny sleep in ourselves is to ‘wash over’ or ignore the great sacrifices that have been made in the past for us and then I noticed that my beautiful dog Lily who is sleeping by my side right now understands Psalm 121: 3-4 much better than I do.

    “He will never let me stumble, slip or fall. For he is always watching, never sleeping”

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