Last week I took myself off on a silent, private retreat to a Roman Catholic conference center north of Richmond called Shalom House. I went there to rest in part because my spirit was unquiet in recent weeks and I needed to – as they say – get my head together. Among the books I took with me was a book of poetry by Charles Peguy (early 20th century French poet who was killed in battle during WWI) titled God Speaks … Last week I took myself off on a silent, private retreat to a Roman Catholic conference center north of Richmond called Shalom House. It’s a familiar place to me, one where I’ve driven to over the years. The main building is an old farmhouse that’s been renovated in part, with a modern kitchen and dining room — with a lovely gas fireplace at one end of the vast hall.
So there I was, taking rambling walks around the large pond on the property, resting, reading poetry and spiritual books, and going into the nearby town for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants. I went there to rest in part because my spirit was unquiet in recent weeks and I needed to – as they say – get my head together. And as you probably know, one of the effects of unquiet is a bit of trouble sleeping at night. (By the way, I’m sleeping fine now, so obviously things that were troubling me have been settled in my mind. But that’s another story.)
Anyway, sleep. One of my favorite books that I took with me was a book of poetry by Charles Peguy (early 20th century French poet who was killed in battle during WWI) titled God Speaks. This is a collection of his religious poetry written as if God were speaking profound Gospel truths in simple language. In a New York Times Review of the translated work, the reviewer says that “the lofty beauty and the naive naturalness of this religious poetry have seldom been equaled.”
The first poem in this volume is titled “Sleep.” And it was just what I needed on my retreat. Let me give you a flavor of this lovely poem.
I don’t like the man who doesn’t sleep, says God.
Sleep is the friend of man.
Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have created.
And I myself rested on the seventh day …
I am talking about those who work and don’t sleep.
I pity them. I am talking about those who work and who, in this,
Obey my commandment, poor children.
And who on the other hand lack courage, lack confidence, and don’t sleep.
I pity them. I have it against them. A little. They won’t trust me …
They have the courage to work. They lack the courage to be idle …
To stretch out. To rest. To sleep …
Poor children, they follow human wisdom.
Human wisdom says, Don’t put off until tomorrow
What can be done the very same day.
But I tell you that he who knows how to put off until tomorrow
Is the most agreeable to God .
And I tell you, Put off until tomorrow
Those worries and those troubles which are gnawing at you today
And might very well devour you today.
Put off until tomorrow those sobs that choke you
When you see today’s unhappiness.
Those sobs which rise up and strangle you.
Put off until tomorrow those tears which fill your eyes and your head,
Flooding you, rolling down your cheeks, those tears which stream down your cheeks.
Because between now and tomorrow, maybe I, God, will have passed by your way …
And I say Blessed, blessed is the man who puts off what he has to do until tomorrow.
Blessed is he who puts off. That is to say Blessed is he who hopes. And who sleeps.
(God Speaks, translated by Julian Green, NY: Pantheon Books, l962.)
Well, somehow I found that very comforting. And that poem did help me sleep while I quieted my spirit with prayer, sacrament, and relaxation. Reminding me that ultimately God sustains at all times and so it’s OK to let go of worries and emotional struggles and relax into God’s Providence – even while we sleep. Maybe especially in the darkness of night … while we sleep. So take a deep breath – or two or three – and practice being idle and resting in the hope of God’s care. And sleep very well tonight. God insists!