Dec 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Spirituality

There are times when familiar, reassuring thoughts come back as comforts.

There is the line in Sebastian Faulks’ moving novel Charlotte Gray, where Miss Gray is about to be parachuted into Nazi-Occupied France as a spy. An RAF bomber is flying her through the night, deep into occupied territory, and one of the bomber crew announces to her that they are just passing over one of the French cities.

It was a reassuring moment to me, the image of an aeroplane moving through a clouded night sky, almost as though it was tiptoeing so as not to wake anyone. The city below was a place I knew from summer holidays, but it was more than that; there is a feeling of safety, of security, in a community asleep below in the deep darkness. Is it perhaps that sleeping people are unthreatening people, or is it that sleep represents a refuge from all the worries of the world?

I remember reading Father Niall O’Brien’s story of his ministry on the Philippine island of Negros, a tale of struggling against violence and oppression. Many of the sugar workers led miserable lives as day labourers, yet there was one moment where Niall O’Brien describes stepping into a hut late at night to be met with darkness in which he could make out the sleeping figures of itinerant workers. Sleep seemed a moment of relief, a few brief hours of respite from the grinding poverty in which they lived.

For Prospero, in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, life itself is a dream rounded off with sleep:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sleep looms large in our images of Christmas, whether in the television ideal of children awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus or in the Christian retelling of the Nativity Story. The carol O little town of Bethlehem talks about the deep and dreamless sleep of the infant Jesus, while the Basque Christmas carol Sing Lullaby captures that sense of sleep as an escape from an awaiting harsh reality

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now reclining,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Angels are watching, stars are shining
over the place where He is lying:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-sleeping,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon will come sorrow with the morning,
soon will come bitter grief and weeping:
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby baby, now a-dozing,
sing lullaby!
Hush, do not wake the infant King.
Soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing,
then in the grave at last reposing;
sing lullaby!

Sing lullaby!
Lullaby! is the babe awaking?
Sing lullaby!
Hush, do not stir the infant King.
Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning.
conquering death, its bondage breaking:
sing lullaby!

May our sleep be reassuring and our dreams be peaceful.


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  1. […] “There are times when familiar, reassuring thoughts come back as comforts.” So says Ian Poulton. He’s a Church of Ireland vicar who writes the For The Fainthearted blog. […]

  2. I just discovered you by way of “Rediscovered comforts” in Paul Waters blog “Blackwatertown.” I traveled a distance, coming from the other side of the pond in Crystal Lake, Illinois; a journey I’ll make again.

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