There was an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times about new evidence suggesting more ways that the human body uses our sleep time for healing and making the adjustments in our brains and bodies that we need. Over the past century people have become accustomed to functioning on less and less sleep and the questions often pondered are, “but functioning how well and with what long-term detrimental effects?” The article’s author asks a brilliant question though. Why haven’t we evolved past a need for sleep, since we’re so vulnerable while sleeping? Our early ancestors needed to be vigilant at all times against predators after all. Are we now slowly evolving beyond a need for sleep? The article goes into a lengthy description of new scientific thought around what else might be happening in our brains during sleep:http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/opinion/sunday/goodnight-sleep-clean.html?_r=0, to read more.
Meanwhile, sleep is still necessary and during our sleep we dream. And when we dream we process ideas that we might have only vaguely been aware of during our wakefulness. This weekend, when our country formally remembers the work of Martin Luther King, the word “dream” takes on even more significance. His was a dream that came from being fully awake in a segregated and gaze-averting world, but in a song that the group U2 sings, MLK, King’s dream is being realized during his “sleep” (as a euphemism for death goes):
Sleep, sleep tonight and may your dreams be realized.
For many of us our lack of sleep comes from a need to be busy all the time. A need to be needed or a need to appear important. (For others, of course, it comes from the necessity of working too many part-time jobs or taking care of children and ill parents, but that’s a topic for another day.) Our culture tells us that we’re important when we’re busy, and we moan about having too much to do, while we secretly take pride in it at the same time. On the whole that seems like a bad thing, but I believe in being busy. Work and play and giving and receiving are all things that keep us busy. Maybe even keeping us busy as we realize Martin’s dream. And we can sing about that too, as in these words from a 20th century-composed work by Hall Johnson in the style of an African-American Spiritual.
Lord, I keep so busy praisin’ my Jesus, ain’ got time to die.
‘Cause when I’m healin’ the sick
it takes all o’ my time
‘Cause when I’m feedin’ the poor
I’m workin’ fer the Kingdom…
‘Cause when I’m givin’ my all,
I’m servin’ my Master …
If the thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain down on him, the U2 song continues. Rain, for any farmer or gardener, is a beautiful thing. The thunderclouds seem ominous, but they bring new life. And any work we are doing to nourish Martin’s dream is life-giving.
Sleeping and staying busy. Dreaming and working. Standing back and leaning in. Good things are possible during all of these.