As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reflecting on bodily practices–especially those that are not typically associated with feminism and religion. Our lives as embodied persons are so multi-dimensional! There is so much we perceive and experience through our senses, through our movements, and through the places we locate ourselves. So I have decided to use this blog to think through some ideas and learn from you in this community of readers, contributors, and commenters. Over the next few months, I will continue to discuss the ways I am becoming more intentional about connecting habits surrounding the body to feminist and religious concerns. Once again, I’ve glossed on only a few of the many connections we could make about women, religion, and bodily practices. Today I write about sleep. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Do feminism and religion have anything to do with sleep?
Sleeping is as vital to human survival as food and water. But lamentably, getting the proper amounts of sleep is not one of those healthy goals that is fiercely defended. It is much more common to hear someone brag about how productive she can be on a few hours of sleep than to boast about her productivity after a full night’s rest. I have to admit, I am always a little suspicious of those people who proudly proclaim they only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep, and I’m a little antagonistic to those who want to recruit the rest of us into their sleepless world: “There is so much else you could be doing with your time than sleeping!” They say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I have even heard “Sleep kills dreams!” Um, actually, dreams come when you sleep. Sleep breeds dreams, you could say. More on that below.
As you might be able to tell, I am the type of woman who loves sleep. I love climbing into my bed at night. I enjoy the feeling of waking up with a rested body and a renewed spirit and a groggy-but-fresh mind. I especially love naps for that reason. The most enjoyable and perhaps “productive” seasons of my life have been those when I could take a nap after class, after work, or after the gym.
Sleep is vital because it allows the body to rest. In the Christian tradition, we claim that rest is part of the creation of the world. That God marveled at the wonderful world God created, and when the work was done, God rested. This rest inspires the Sabbath. Sabbath is a day set aside for rest, worship, and contemplation of the holy. It is regrettably observed less and less in contemporary American Christianity. Since we have let go of the need for the Sabbath, it certainly no surprise we have also lost sight of the importance of daily rest, too.
Although my thoughts are little uncharitable towards those who preach the gospel of little sleep, I am very sympathetic to those who feel they do not have enough time to sleep. To those who feel like sleep is a luxury they cannot afford. Certainly many women tasked with numerous responsibilities often feel this frustration. They make do with less sleep because they have to complete more tasks in their waking hours. Yet it has been my experience that even those who are overworked and overscheduled appreciate the uncommon times when they can sleep a little longer than usual.
For me, times of sleep are very much connected to gratitude. In the past year or so, I have retrieved the practice of nightly prayer, which sadly got left behind in my childhood years. In all honesty, it was not a renewal of spiritual piety that led me to resume these bedtime prayers. It was insomnia. As much as I love sleep, I am often kept from it by anxieties and thoughts of the coming day. I started using bedtime prayers as a way of turning my cares over to God. These silent prayers become conversations about what is important to me and what concerns me. I talk to God about what I am grateful for. I talk to God about my family and my friends, about their lives and concerns that weigh on me. And then I let it go–at least for the night–and trust my soul to the divine power who cares for me while I sleep.
These nightly prayers have not only promoted peaceful sleep (for most nights, at least) but also the experience of vivid dreams. Dreams, like other visions, are honored in many religions as a place where the divine communicates with humanity. But this too, seems absent from contemporary American Christianity. Perhaps it is because dreams are associated with the intuitive senses, and therefore the feminine, that they are overlooked. Dreams are less clear and presumably more open to speculative interpretations than the texts we read during the day. I cannot say whether I meet God or whether I meet my deeper self in dreams, but I do know I am connected to powerful ways of being in my sleep, and that this is important for my spiritual life.
My final reflection about sleep is an acknowledgment that we often do not sleep alone. While sleep itself takes us to a solitary place, we often share our beds with lovers, children, and other family members and friends. Like those bedtime prayers, the words we speak under the covers in those moments before sleep connect us to our bed-mates. Whether they are ghost stories or secrets or incoherent ramblings about the day to come, these nighttime words prepare our minds for the sleep that will soon overtake us. Unless, of course, we are next to someone who snores or kicks.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.