Elusive Sleep

Jean-Francois Millet, The Sheepfold in Moonlight

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky –
I’ve thought of all by turns, and still I lie
~William Wordsworth, “To Sleep”

Sleepless.  Falling asleep for me, is never the issue.  It is a consistent middle of the night break in sleep, abrupt unrelenting wakefulness.  Mr. Garner, warm beside me, is sound asleep, the daughter down the hall is too.  The house is quiet, but my mind is not.  I surrender to my alertness and slip out of bed and head downstairs.  It’s impossible, in our old house, to walk down the hallway without a creak but I can count foot steps and floor boards and do a fairly credible job.  This skill retained from the daughter’s infancy.

I’ve become accustomed and somewhat accepting of these nocturnal seasons in my life, and try to use the time to catch up; first on prayer, then reading, to-do lists, and sometimes social media.  It’s always surprising to me to see that there are others awake between 2 and 4 am seeking distraction before dawn blooms in the eastern sky.

This past week, unfortunately, I neglected my early hour ante meridiem prayer time and succumbed to an impulse to use my nocturnal waking to catch up on several episodes of a tv series.  You know the ones, designed to wrap the viewer in expectation and hope and suspense and ultimately manipulation.  They never fail to leave me disgusted with myself for poor discernment and wasted time.   Sadly with Netflix, there is an entire season that will play automatically, one after another, no commercials.

So tonight I am trying something new; writing a blog post while heating water for some Teavana Lavender Dreams white tea, and pulling out my favorite recording of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers – an achingly beautiful setting of the All Night Vigil (Vespers, Matins and First Hour) of the Russian Orthodox church.

I will pray, they will sing, then I will sleep.

Here is a You Tube video of a live performance.  Sit down, grab a cup of tea, and listen.  Yes, it is in Russian.  It doesn’t matter.  It is a stunning blend of human voices and Scriptural chant and the Word will wash over you and you will be at peace.  Verily.

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

The image at the top of this post is a painting by Jean Francouis Millet entitled “The Sheep Fold ~ Moonlight” painted in 1860. Millet was a founder of the Barbizon School, a group of painters whose subjects were landscapes and scenes of peasant agriculture, and whose depiction of natural light was fresh and new at the time.

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