by Maria L. Evans
O heavenly Father, you give your children sleep for the
refreshing of soul and body: Grant me this gift, I pray; keep
me in that perfect peace which you have promised to those
whose minds are fixed on you; and give me such a sense of
your presence, that in the hours of silence I may enjoy the
blessed assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ our
–Prayer for sleep, Book of Common Prayer, p. 461
For the last couple of years, now, I’ve found time to volunteer at least minimally for a cold weather shelter ministry in Columbia, MO, called Room at the Inn. As I preparing to drive down recently and overnight there, I was thinking, “Just what is it that draws me to drive 90 miles away to participate in this ministry, besides the fact I wish we did a similar one in my town, and would invest my time to help start one?”
This year, I realized what it was, about 3:30 in the morning. It was sitting in the quiet, hearing the sound of roughly 40 people snoring.
You see, snoring has a universality to it. Anyone can do it. Most of us don’t even realize we ARE doing it. (Unless, of course, we have a bed partner who is annoyed by it and proceeds to wake us up and inform us of it in vivid detail.) Snoring is not restricted to any race, belief system, or socioeconomic status. It’s simply the result of the combination of certain anatomic characteristics of the head and neck, combined with deep sleep. Yes, it can be a sign of pathology–things such as sleep apnea–but sometimes it’s just the way we lie in bed. Not all snoring is the same, but it’s certainly something that crosses a lot of social boundaries.
In some ways, it’s a sign that we feel safe enough to sleep that deeply, and perhaps that is where the difference between rich and poor come in. I suspect the homeless don’t always get the chance to sleep deep enough to snore, for as long. It’s probably hard to sleep that deeply when you are being rousted off of benches and out of parking garages by police and security. In the cold, there’s a danger in falling asleep that deeply if one is not covered well enough to withstand the possibility of hypothermia. It’s hard to feel safe enough to sleep soundly when there is always a risk of being rolled by passers-by and your fellow homeless.
I suspect there were other universalities among us in their dreams. I imagine some were dreaming of people long gone, some of flying, some of searching for something. A few might have been dreams where everything is safe and warm. However, I just as likely suspect that not all the dreams were necessarily good dreams. Perhaps some had monsters, some were about loss, and perhaps even someone was dreaming the infamous “final exam dream.”
This is all part of what we discover when we participate in ministries where we are given opportunity to meet people where they are, in a way that we discover who they are, by listening to their stories and about their lives in the hours before they fall asleep. We discover that the Realm of God inches just a wee bit closer to the realm of humanity, when we help make the things happen that reveal the universal natures of all human life.
As I sat there in the wee morning hours, I simply enjoyed the din of the nasopharyngeal evidence of deep repose, feeling honored that I was one of the shepherds that was helping make this happen for 40 people who don’t often get that opportunity. I can’t fix very much at all in these people’s lives. I can’t avert them from the tragedies that started them on the road that led them to this shelter, nor can I dissuade them from poor choices that also may have contributed to that journey. I can, however, give them a safe place to snore.
What are the tiny intangibles that reveal the Realm of God to you in the mundane noises of life?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid