I wanted to stay awake. I'd been looking forward to this occasion, this very moment. But I was so tired. Over and over again I found myself slipping from drowsiness into unconsciousness. I swung like a pendulum from 'open eye' to 'shut eye' and back again, in my fight to stay awake, my head ached....no, it actually hurt. The effort had worn me out. I felt rotten.
And I was afraid. I did not want to disgrace myself. Many's the time someone has roused me from my slumbers with a poke in the ribs and the whispered admonition that I was snoring loudly with the rasping sound of a tractor or of an old-time VW Beetle. I did so want to remain awake on this occasion most of all.
I wanted, I needed to remain alert. I couldn't afford to lose out. Eventually my resistance caved in. Time came when my contentment in slumber-land was shattered by a sharp poke in the ribs and the urgent whisper, 'Peter! You're snoring!' My instinct was, 'So what! Who cares? Leave me alone!' By the mercy of God lethargy silenced my tongue. Drowsily I looked around. I was surrounded by thousands of people gathered around an altar in a vast open space. And then I heard a voice I recognized, preaching...It was Pope John Paul II celebrating the open- air Mass in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.
I've been a priest for very many years. Often people many have confessed to me that they have fallen asleep when saying their prayers. They haven't been able to complete the prayer quota they've assigned themselves. They've felt so awful about this. And now, what about me? What size of a sin was it for me to fall asleep when the Vicar of Christ was preaching?
I excuse myself by recalling Gethsemane and how Jesus begged His inner circle -the elite trio, Peter, James and John -to accompany Him as He sought the consolation of prayer to His heavenly Father. They couldn't keep vigil with Him - even for just one hour. More than once Jesus aroused them and urged them to keep on praying. Much as they loved Him, they just couldn't make it.
Come to think of it, poor, tired Jesus couldn't match the expectations of His friends as they wrestled with the turbulent storm on the Lake of Galilee, "But He was in the stern, His head on a cushion, asleep. They woke Him and said to Him, 'Master, do you not care? We are lost!'" (Mk. 4. 38-39). What impertinence to suggest that Jesus had ceased to care because exhaustion had knocked Him out!
All this convinced me that we do not offend God when sleep snuffs out our prayers. Falling asleep is the most natural thing in the world. As far as I know every animal simply must get some sleep. It must relax so as to regain its vitality. And so must we.
In the Bible we find that on a number of occasions God spoke to people when they were asleep, when He could catch and hold their attention because they were not caught up in activities and anxieties, or even absorbing enthusiasms. And what a pleasing idea this is: There is no better way of falling asleep than when you're actually praying to God, with your mind, heart and love resting in Him. That surely deserves sweet dreams!
I know at least one person who will be relieved by this approach and will not think I'm fooling only myself!
In a fortnight Fr. Isidore will reflect on Meeting God through 'A Tickler.'