Revd. Gaenor's Reflections
The reflections for your week
Sunday 29th November Advent Sunday
Staying awake and watchful
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13: 24-37
Sleep is something that we all need for our bodies and minds to replenish and when we don’t have enough sleep our daily lives begin to not function as well as usual. Whatever stage of life we are in, our sleep will be affected- whether as parents of young children, or peri-menopausal women or older people whose systems are slowing down. And the importance of good sleep- whatever our age- during this time of pandemic couldn’t be higher.
But what if we can’t get to sleep, or wake up in the early hours? Can there be any positives as we try to get back into a sleep routine? (I have included some tips on sleeping better at the end of this piece for all you insomniacs.)
On the other hand have you ever deliberately stayed up all night? I’m sure we all have!
I have done it, working the night shift as a nurse, going to a college ball til dawn and more recently a parish night of prayer…
Christ calls to his disciples and the whole Church to “keep awake,” to keep alert to the Spirit of God in this generation and it’s more than just keeping our physical eyes open. There is a deliberate and intentional alertness to God in our everyday lives.
God watches over us
We remember first that our God constantly watches over us, that our God neither slumbers nor sleeps cf Psalm 121:4.
Watchfulness and vigilance is a theme we find elsewhere in the New Testament e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:13–14; Ephesians 6:18, 1 Peter1:13.
It is also inferred with the role of the sentinel, among the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah who warn of danger, call people to repentance and announce peace and salvation.
Your sentinel lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52: 8
The idea of keeping awake is at the heart of Advent, a time of waiting and watching, but it also calls to mind the very human thing: to stay awake when you would normally be sleeping.
At some point, every person has cause to be awake through the night, whether for work, for play, for a child or looking after a loved one, for an emergency, or for a long night out. Depending on the circumstances, it can be either exhausting or exhilarating, or some combination of both.This surely is like the journey of faith?
Called to keep watch
So we have the words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, after speaking of the return and second coming of the Son of Man with two parables about readiness and watchfulness- the fig tree and household. Jesus says Keep watch!
As followers of Christ we don’t know when Jesus, the Son of Man, will return and we must not try to calculate or read ‘signs’ but we know the promise and we do need to be alert and watchful.
The judgement that fell on the Temple [in AD70] is a foretaste of the judgement that will fall on the whole world. This time there are to be no signs …, no advance warnings. Just the ongoing command to God’s people in Christ to be faithful to him, not to compromise with the standards and fashions of the present age, but to keep awake, watching, as Paul says, for the day to dawn, in whose light the dim flickering candles of the present age will be needed no more. Tom Wright Mark for Everyone
Advent whispers to us: the night may be long and difficult, but the dawn is coming.
“And what I say to you I say to all — keep awake!” (Mark 13:37)
Sleeping through change
In his 1966 “Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution”lecture, Dr Martin Luther King warned, “One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands.There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution”
Are we asleep to what God is doing among us in this historic global pandemic or are we fully awake in this time of great change?
The status quo, the powerful, our fear and complacency, our apathy, our dislike of change – these are all committed to keeping the world the way it is, to preventing the revolution from happening, to keeping us sleepwalking through our lives. But Jesus tells the disciples then and now: “Stay awake, keep watch, pay attention, be vigilant.”
Revd Laura Mayo, Covenant Church
The message of Advent is not just about preparation for the birth of Christ, the Saviour of the world but is also about being awake and watchful. Advent breaks into our routine and our busy-ness and compels us to listen to the words of Jesus, to live with our eyes wide open, to be aware, and know what is going on in our community and in our world…
Like a sentinel at the watchtower the Church is called to see and respond to the world with a prophetic voice that breaks the silence of oppression and enters the silence of hope. This is the hope of Advent. We are here, God’s Spirit is with us and Christ leads as have His work to do. This is the hope of Advent, that we are not alone. God is with us so that we can bring the hope of Advent into the world around us.
Watchful in prayer
So this Advent I encourage you to spend your best time of each day with God in prayer, with a holy watchfulness, asking God to lead you as you pray.
I encourage you to ask for courage to respond to what God is showing you and to hold fast to the words of Jesus.
And pray as you garden or cook for both these things can teach us about watchfulness.
And as we pray, we may be led to act with compassion, to respond to a neighbour’s need, to demonstrate God’s love in a difficult relationship or broker peace between friends. We may also be prompted to respond to the wider world, using our gifts to bring a bit of hope to someone further away.
May we know God watching over us, always alert to our needs and may we be alert to the promptings of God as we wait for the coming of Jesus.
O Lord our God,
make us watchful and keep us faithful
as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
that, when he shall appear,
he may not find us sleeping in sin
but active in his service
and joyful in his praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Advent Sunday
And so to sleep . . . ?
HERE are a few of the current recommendations to aid sleep.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Niebuhr
•Keep a sleep diary and see what patterns you detect. Observe the effects of what you eat and drink during the evening.
•Discuss any chronic symptoms with your GP, in case there is an underlying medical condition that can be treated.
•Keep regular hours of sleep, even at weekends. Some people swear by a nap during the day. Others think these are to be avoided.
•Have a peaceful going-to-bed routine.
•Do not go to bed too early, and always get up at the same time each day
• Banish work, screens, phones, iPads, clocks, the news, pandemic updates, Brexit, anything worrying or upsetting, before you get ready for bed. Invest in a small, non-ticking alarm clock if you are worried about oversleeping.
•Keep a pen and pad by your bed so that you can immediately write down anything you are worried about forgetting — and then put it out of your mind.
•Embrace anything that makes you feel happy and safe, especially before you sleep: teddies, blankets, lovely books, cocoa, a gratitude diary, seed catalogues, family photographs, a holding cross.
- Exercise every day, but not during the evening.
•Make sure that your bedroom feels safe, quiet, and relaxing, and has thick curtains. Keep it cool, and ensure that your bedclothes are warm but not too warm.
•Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening if they keep you awake.
•Learn techniques of deep breathing and relaxation.
•Don’t worry if you cannot sleep: pray, read, get up and do something relaxing or creative- but don’t turn on a screen.
•Use a sound app, such as Tom Middleton’s “Sleep Better: soundscapes to enhance sleep quality” as a primer to sleep.
• A weekly session of cognitive behavioural therapy might help you to recognise what beliefs and thoughts control your inability to sleep.
(Adapted from Laurie Vere, Church Times, November 2019)
For a more academic study on sleep and faith:
Theosomnia: A Christian theology of sleep. Andrew Bishop (2018)