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Insomnia

2013 January 9
by Gordon Reid

There is much to be said for insomnia (which I am experiencing as I write) but not if it happens too often. Then it becomes unnatural and something to cure.

The same could be said of many other of our experiences.

Take enthusiasm, for example. Once in a while it is refreshing to be bubbling over with excitement for a cause or a person or even God. As with ecstasy, we are taken out of ourselves for the moment and transported with joy and energy. But have you ever tried living with someone who is wildly enthusiastic (or worse, ecstatic) all the time? It becomes obvious that what is attractive and energizing now and then, if it become a constant state, it is not only unpleasant but self-destructive.

That is one of the things that is dangerous about “happy-clappy religion” to give it its pejorative but well-known name. Once in a while, there come moments to every serious and contented Christian when he or she is caught up into what St Paul calls “the seventh heaven”, into a state of joy, peace, insight, fulfillment, when the soul knows it has come home. But (as Jesus told his apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration) it is wrong to cling to such experiences. They last only a moment, but their effects last for a lifetime. And during that lifetime there are more important things to be done, such as Jesus did when he came down the hillside and cured a paralyzed man.

Constant excitement and emotional intensity, which easily becomes hysteria, is as unhealthy as constant insomnia. Catholics too can substitute the intense peace and joy we find in adoring the Blessed Sacrament, for example, for the real Christian life of working for justice and a better life for all.

It may seem odd to compare going to church with insomnia, but too much church can be bad for your spiritual health! My Roman Catholic priest friends tell me that they sometimes come close to hating the Mass because of having to celebrate it three  or even four times on a Sunday, because of the shortage of priests.

Maybe the lesson of all this is that moderation is good in all things. Sleep is usually a fine way to recharge our batteries, but too much sleep is sloth. In the same way enthusiasm is a most attractive trait for short bursts, but if it is perpetual it leads to monomania. And church  masses and other services are essential for recharging our spiritual batteries, but too many services inside a church building lead to too little church service outside the building.

Now I’m going back to bed!

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeff Ezell permalink
    January 9, 2013

    The late Fr George Moore Acker, an Anglo-Catholic priest of the Diocese of Dallas and a protege of the great Fr Homer Rogers, used to warn of developing “spiritual indigestion” from too many liturgical services in a day. Though an advanced Anglo-Catholic himself, he was also careful to avoid ceremonial that might be deemed “excessive”.

    The “seventh heaven” experience in Anglo-Catholicism is, I think, normally a subtle thing that wouldn’t be perceived by our happy-clappy brethren. Rather, it’s an interior experience that may come sometimes during the Mass, Benediction, or perhaps in procession or pilgramage at a place like Walsingham. In the first two instances it is – in my experience – a sense of being in the very court of heaven, worshipping the Lamb upon the throne. In the last example, it is perhaps more a sense of following quite literally in the foot steps of the Church and of countless Christians down through the ages.

    To approximately quote the venerable head altar server at All Saints Margaret Street, most of the time whilst serving in the sanctuary we’re focused on the actions we’re having to perform and frustrated in the goal of entering into the spirit of the liturgical worship. That offering of service has to be our worship when we can’t otherwise enter into the sense of worship itself because of being preoccupied with “getting things right”. But, as Cedric said, sometimes – once in a while – “something happens” – something beyond words, when all the distractions go away, and one is transported to a higher plain and a clearer perception, something that seems very near the miraculous and eternal.

  2. Murray Small permalink
    January 10, 2013

    Dear Fr. Gordon,
    I empathise with your comments on insomnia,
    .
    Having lived in Italy for many years, the one bit about going to Mass on Sunday mornings which I also enjoyed was to flee to the local pasticceria after mass and enjoy a lovely pastry with a cafe doppio amidst all the lively shrieks of Italians doing likewise. Now there is balance for you.
    If the insomnia gets too much ,try reading Msgr. Ronald Knox’s “Enthusiasm”; it is so dense and heavy, you will soon doze off with sheer boredom.
    I often think one can get too spiritual for one’s own good, claustrophobia of sorts.
    The recently retired Arch. of Canterbury Rowan Williams said something similar in his televised farewell to the Cathedral at Canterbury when he was commenting on the interior decoration of the cathedral, he mooted that the post Reformation destruction of the decoration was not so much iconoclasm, but rather an decluttering from a sense of claustrophobia.
    I wonder how St. Therese of Avila coped with the draining effects of her revelric ecstasies.

  3. Liam permalink
    January 11, 2013

    Exactly, dear Father. Occasional boredom in liturgy or prayer is a healthy and normal part of one’s spiritual life. However, when one finds that one is starting to hate the Office or Mass, when one starts to be overwhelmed by the sheer multiplicity of words, perhaps it is a sign that one ought to step back a bit.

    This must have been something of the case for the poor priests at the time of the Reformation. Imagine being obliged every day to recite the canonical Office, the Office of the Virgin and the Office for the Departed, in addition to saying Mass. There must hardly have been any time left to pray between all those Offices!

    I have heard that amongst the most advanced monks within the Greek Orthodox monastic enclave of Mount Athos, it is common to forego the Office altogether. They come together to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, but the rest of their office is simply silent prayer. I must confess, there are days when that seems very appealing!

  4. Gary (NJ) permalink
    January 12, 2013

    A few years ago I read a book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia and Me…which many of you may find interesting and true for ourselves. Generally acedia means spiritual sloth or laziness, when you just don’t want to be bothered praying or going to Mass or saying the Daily Office. It was an issue for medieval monks and nuns, just as it can be for us today.

    I’m not a medical person Father Reid, but occasionally when I have insomnia, I take a very low dose of Klonipin (clonazepam) which you can get a prescription for from your physician. It’s a mild tranquilizer which should do the trick without clobbering you like Ambien or Lunesta.
    As they say on TV, ask your Dr if it’s right for you! ;-)

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