Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep:
Prayer during a Restless Rest
I lay my head to rest
and in doing so
lay at your feet
the faces I have seen
the voices I have heard
the words I have spoken
the hands I have shaken
the service I have given
the joys I have shared
the sorrows revealed
I lay them at your feet
and in doing so
lay my head to rest.1
What troubles us often visits at night – refusing to let us snooze. Even Scripture tells stories of the troubled rest. Jacob and Joseph, Daniel and Job and Hannah’s son Samuel, they all wrestled with the night. And from a dream, the Magi, Joseph, Mary, and young Jesus are warned to escape the terror of Herod. Restlessness reveals a fear or desire, a caution or failure, or the nature of a relationship. Yet restlessness also can make known a hope or God’s call to a new future.
This summer, rest has not come easy for me. In US culture, this season is supposed to be a time of renewal and rest. But when folks’ heads hit the pillows this summer, the terrors of Baltimore and Charleston, of Chattanooga and Lafayette, can hold our imaginations. Work or no work or personal worries swiftly stream across our minds. In a bed or on the street, sleep just doesn’t seem to come. I’ve had some restless nights. I’ve looked at the clock during the night. Another hour passes. Goodness knows that I know people who can sleep through anything. I can’t. I guess there are things in life worth losing sleep over. It’s understandable that more than half of Americans lose sleep from stress and anxiety.2 What keeps you awake?
Faith, however, is not about a good night’s sleep. Instead it is about trusting God and at the same time holding and working to ease the world’s hurts and hungers. That can also keep us awake at night. Yet, if sleep does not come how do we rest anyway? When I am especially sleepless, I remember the brief phrase from Augustine’s prayer that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God.” And the Celtic prayer above invites me to lay before God my worries, troubles, and hopes, to recall the day’s work done and not done. I pray for others who struggle through the darkness with sickness, weary from work, threatened by violence, afraid of the night. Let the moments before sleep become the spiritual practice of letting go, of entrusting ourselves and all of life to God’s care.
Seem a bit trivial? I don’t think it is. When the day ends, yet there is no sleep, no rest, can we trust? When we rise, will we trust once again and live fully? Awake or asleep, may we rest in God.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:24 (NIV).
The peace of God be yours,
1John Birch’s New Blessings in the Celtic Style at www.faithandworship.com . Used by permission.
For A New Beginning
for You, for Us…
In out-of-the way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Hard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when the courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
It’s that time of year, a time of new beginnings. September signals that school begins or a move to a new place. September points to all kinds of new starts. John O’Donohue’s poem “For a New Beginning” challenges us to take a risk, to step out from the familiar toward such new possibilities. When the poem was recently read in the Wednesday meditation group, Break Away, participants spoke of the challenges and fear of moving out from the familiar. God calls us forward.
So we begin again at First Church — “Homecoming Sunday” is September 13 and we will be challenged with the passionate preaching of Valerie Bridgeman. During the evening before Homecoming, the Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University will shake us and lift us to new places. There are numbers of other beginnings this Fall – saying goodbye to Susan Henderson as the beloved Interim of Faith Formation and welcoming Sam McFerran as the new Minister of Faith Formation, or working on Habitat for Humanity or affordable housing. We continue to move ahead in our celebration of 150 years, and are stepping into the future on faith. On Saturday, September 19, attend the “Annual Planning Retreat” On that day, we will identify new beginnings and plans for the future year. And what of you? What is about to begin? What changes are you facing? Dear friends, “unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning…”
May the delight and the peace of God come.
Shelter Your People, O God
Hold on, dear house,
‘gainst the long hours
of emptiness, against
the wind’s tearing force.
You are my mind
my heart in its place.
When the 150th Anniversary team here at First Church identified what was important to explore and do during this anniversary year, we said “build.” Do something tangible. Our theme of “Building a Just and Loving Community” wasn’t just about examining our history for exquisite moments of doing God’s justice in the past. It was about doing something here and now. It is about giving thanks to God for this spiritual home and joining God in working for just and affordable housing for others.
Our youth – along with other youth from the UCC Potomac Association – have been building houses through Habitat for Humanity during the past several summers. On Saturday, October 17, you are encouraged to join our youth as we have our own build day from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. If you are 16 years or older and interested in building, let Peter Tracey or Grant Anderson know at PTracey@PerkinsCoie.com.
And there are opportunities to engage in conversation and advocacy for shelter and housing in DC. Our Social Action and Awareness Commission has had a series of presentations about the possibilities for our own next steps. Also through the leadership of Meg Maguire, we have advocated for stronger inclusionary zoning regulation – favorable to the most vulnerable, not just to developers. And with Mayor Bowser’s budget commitment to safer shelters and affordable housing, at times we will support her specific initiatives – other times we will advocate for change. We are also looking at ways we might partner with other congregations/agencies or contribute directly to new construction or transformation of existing buildings into housing. We celebrate a mentoring relationship with the Johnson-Luster family through the District’s One Family/One Congregation program. This is a critical ministry that assists the family as they move into stable housing. The program is a blessing to all of us.
Specific recommendations about our future response to shelter/housing are emerging. Please, if you are interested in how we move ahead and wanting to join others in doing something, in building, contact me or James Ross, our Social Action Community Organizer at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Weekly and daily, we encounter folk who long for a house, a home, a shelter. You may be one. A house weathers “against the wind’s tearing force.” It is a home-base for finding work, for gathering around the table of nourishment, for the heart at rest. It can give someone a chance for a new life. Together, let us build such places of sanctuary, a just and loving community. By the grace of God…
Shelter us, O God: hide us in the shadow of your wings. You alone are our hope.