Powered by Sleep

I had thought that synchro-blogging would be easy – I was given a theme and a deadline – all I had to do was come up with something to say. And I typically don’t have any trouble coming up with something to say. But I had forgotten about another possible problem – having too much to say.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the theme in my head, but as I was under the weather for a couple of days, I hadn’t managed to get anything down on paper so to speak. And here’s the thing about writing: writing in your head is helpful up to a point, but in the end, you have to sit down and get to business. For me, when I have too many ideas swirling around in my head, getting to business may involve writing pages of material that never see the light of day – pages that simply need to get out of my head and out of the way, so that I can see the ideas worth sharing that have been hidden beneath the ideas with loud voices.

After writing down some long narrative that I am not going to share (or at least not right away – I will tuck it away in case it proves to be the sleeping seed of another project), very often it helps to take a nap – and that is exactly what I did in this case. Which is ironic, given that the theme of the synchro-blog I was working on was “AWAKE.” But in order to wake up, we first have to sleep, and a lot of great stuff happens in our brains when we are sleeping. Our brains re-organize in our sleep, so there is no better time for a nap, in my experience, than right after having made some space by removing some thoughts into the pensieve for later.  Just make sure you wake up with a pencil, pen, or keyboard handy.

There were Saturdays in the parish when I found napping essential to sermon preparation.  I would think about my sermon all week – and sometimes inspiration would strike (usually right after a shower or first thing in the morning or right after a conversation with my husband) and I would have written a manuscript well before Saturday.  But if not, I could be found on the living room sofa with a Bible and a hymnal and several sheets of paper.  I would write down phrases that struck me from the scriptures and hymns I was using, then I would draw lines between related phrases, and circle repetitive phrases, and then… I would be overcome with sleepiness, and curl up on the sofa and take a nap.  When I woke up, I would write the sermon.  Or a sermon, anyway.  Sunday morning post-shower re-writes were common, no matter what my method had been.

Thinkers, sleep is your friend:  whether you write poetry or sermons or computer software or write as little as possible, we all have problems to solve, and after our conscious minds have chipped away at the problem, it may be time to put our unconscious minds to work.


This blog entry was written in concert with many other bloggers as a synchro-blog, in response to an invitation by She Loves magazine.

In his autobiography Tales of Wonder, Huston Smith describes mornings at boarding school as a boy:

“I awoke the same way each morning. I would shoot bolt upright in bed, stretch out my arms, and yell, “Good!” I may wake up differently today, but I still say under my breath a loud good to the world.”

As someone whose sleep has been disordered for the better part of her life, I was profoundly jealous when I read that anecdote. It has been the rare morning when I have woken up all at once, much less done so gladly, optimistically, even benevolently. I am a slow waker: even if I am up and moving around, you cannot be assured that I am fully conscious – and it takes some time before I am glad to be awake.

I’ve been a slow waker in the faith, too. I have always felt close to God – I remember praying while swinging on my backyard swing as a preschooler. And everywhere I have gone, from my elementary school playground to college keggers to city street corners, I have met people unfamiliar with Jesus and connected their desires and convictions with Jesus’ teachings.

And yet… and yet I can point to the time as an adult when I was introduced to God’s grace, God’s unconditional love for me in particular, and how angry it made me at the time, how untrue and impossible it seemed. I slowly awoke to God’s grace – unlike some who awoke all at once, bolt upright with arms outstretched shouting “Good,” I cannot point to a moment when I said yes to God’s grace. Instead, I know that sometime around the beginning of 2002, I noticed that I was awake – I noticed that I had believed for some time that I (and every other person! Every person and that meant even me!) was particularly beloved and particularly forgiven and particularly worth dying for.

We are all different. Jesus and Paul speak with one voice on this: we are not meant to run around comparing ourselves to others; instead, God’s love for us frees us to be the unique servants of God that we were each created to be. I wake up slowly – it is a gift, part of what I have to offer the world. Huston Smith wakes up all at once – that is a gift, too.

One of the lovely things about reading the blog entries inspired by Idelette McVicker’s invitation to synchro-blog on the theme Awake for She Loves magazine is the opportunity I have had to celebrate the diversity of voices and gifts not my own. There is a great cascade of them – too many to hold onto any one and be jealous that I am not her, that I do not have her voice, her talent, her experience. Instead I can celebrate that God has given us too much to be contained in any one voice, any one life – in concert we witness to the magnitude of God’s goodness: We are all awake, and however we got here, however long it took, whenever we noticed our arrival at wakefulness, in our writing we echo God’s “Good!” to all creation.

Falling out

Yesterday morning, Mark sent me the following tweet: “You and I are gonna fall out ;)” in response to me upping the ante in a playful argument: “John and Charles Wesley – heretics or no?”

First, I had to look up “fall out” to make sure that it meant the same thing in the UK that it does here in the US, and it does.  Falling out, for those of you who are lucky enough never to have had use for the expression, means no longer being on speaking terms with someone after a particularly serious disagreement.  For those of you unfamiliar with emoticons, ” ;)” indicated that he was teasing.

Too often, falling out of step with one another leads us to fall out altogether – but there are other possibilities.  It is especially exciting for me when I discover the places where I am out of step with new friends – it is a sign that the connections we have made are becoming strong enough to risk essential differences.

Later in the day, I found myself in a more serious conversation with Mark about the purpose of legal marriage, which led to me considering the purpose of the nation state, and also to realizing how many conversations of late were drawing my attention to my increasing lack of political ideology (mistrust of political ideology?), in favor of an ad hoc questioning of particular policies from the perspective of who gets hurt and who benefits.  Throughout the exchange of tweets, I noticed that we were falling in and out of step with one another.  In the process, I was being stretched to look at the issue of marriage from a different perspective than I had in a long time – I was paying attention to my feet, and the way they were moving.

Soldiers, when they march, move in lockstep – artificially changing their gait so that they move in perfect concert with one another.  It is good for discipline, and for traveling as a group over long distances – but when they get to a bridge, they have to fall out of step.  The artificial consistency of their steps, vehemently beating out a perfect rhythm, can create a dangerous wave motion, destroying the bridge as they cross it.

I won’t deny that there is such a thing as real consensus – that consensus is not always imposed through tyranny or feigned by the non-confrontational.  However, in my own life experience, building bridges that last requires that those who cross those bridges be comfortable falling out of step with one another.  Else they may find themselves falling off the bridge altogether.

So to Mark – and to Will and to Peach and to Scott and to Maddy and to the many others with whom I have found myself comfortably out of step from time to time – I thank God for you!  May we continue to fall out – and back in – as we run with patience the race that is set before us!