Thursday, January 02, 2014

Sleeping the night away - The Instructor on Sleeping

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"How, in due course, we are to go to sleep, in remembrance of the precepts of temperance, we must now say. For after the repast, having given thanks to God for our participation in our enjoyments, and for the [happy] passing of the day, our talk must be turned to sleep. Magnificence of bed-clothes, gold-embroidered carpets, and smooth carpets worked with gold, and long fine robes of purple, and costly fleecy cloaks, and manufactured rugs of purple, and mantles of thick pile, and couches softer than sleep, are to be banished." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 9)
There is no part of our life too mundane for our reflection and the application of wisdom from our Instructor. It is interesting that this is the second time Clement refers to prayers at bedtime; prayers of thanksgiving for His grace and love in our lives. It seems right to remember the Lord at the end of our day and to thank Him for our day and His presence with us. Even at the end of a hard and difficult day we can always find reason to thank the Lord for His presence and His aid in our difficult times. Beyond this, Clement renews His constant rule of Temperance banning all excesses in a necessary part of life that has no need for such things.
"Moreover, silver-footed couches argue great ostentation; and the ivory on beds, the body having left the soul, is not permissible for holy men, being a lazy contrivance for rest. We must not occupy our thoughts about these things, for the use of them is not forbidden to those who possess them; but solicitude about them is prohibited, for happiness is not to be found in them. On the other hand, it savours of cynic vanity for a man to act as Diomede, — 'And he stretched himself under a wild bull’s hide,' — unless circumstances compel." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 9)
It is interesting to note Clement's belief that during sleep a person's soul was freed from their body, although not to the extent that is is in death. This belief was consistent with many of the philosophers and physicians of his day. Clement also understood that some new converts who came to the Lord already possessing such elaborate couches and beds. For them their use was not forbidden since they already possessed them. However, what Clement was cautioning about was being absorbed with material things and the hunt to obtain such things of luxury. For happiness is never found in these things nor in their pursuit. Our care should be upon the Lord and His Kingdom and not on things of this earth, especially on objects of luxury. 
"And in conformity with reason, the bed which we use must be simple and frugal, and so constructed that, by avoiding the extremes [of too much indulgence and too much endurance], it may be comfortable... But let not the couch be elaborate, and let it have smooth feet; for elaborate turnings form occasionally paths for creeping things which twine themselves about the incisions of the work, and do not slip off." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 9)
When it comes to furnishings for our house, Clement argues for moderation; beds that were comfortable and useful without being ostentatious and indulging in useless luxury. It's also interesting to note Clement's warning of design over function. Curvy legs could provide easy paths for snakes to slither in next to you as you sleep at night!
"We must therefore sleep so as to be easily awaked. For it is said, 'Let your loins be girt about, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like to men that watch for their lord, that when he returns from the marriage, and comes and knocks, they may straightway open to him. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching.' For there is no use of a sleeping man, as there is not of a dead man. Wherefore we ought often to rise by night and bless God. For blessed are they who watch for Him, and so make themselves like the angels, whom we call 'watchers.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 9)
Our sleep should be natural and not the result of heavy drinking or other intoxication. Our sleep should be light enough that we may be easily awoken, if needed, to respond to some emergency or even to the Lord. I have known some who, in the midst of a drunken stupor, slept through fire alarms and for whom even two dozen angles would have a difficult time arousing them from their sleep. We should always be ready and willing to rise at night for the purpose of praise and prayer before God if He should so desire; being watchmen ever ready, even in our sleep.
"But whoever of us is most solicitous for living the true life, and for entertaining noble sentiments, will keep awake for as long time as possible, reserving to himself only what in this respect is conducive to his own health... For those who have the sleepless Word dwelling in them, ought not to sleep the livelong night; but they ought to rise by night, especially when the days are coming to an end, and one devote himself to literature, another begin his art, the women handle the distaff, and all of us should, so to speak, fight against sleep, accustoming ourselves to this gently and gradually, so that through wakefulness we may partake of life for a longer period." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 9)
Life is meant to be lived and not slept away. Sleep is essential and necessary to good health and its use in such proportions is salutary to our lives. However, allowing for the proper amount of sleep, we should seek to fill our lives with activities and endeavors that befit a son and daughter of God. It is interesting that Clement includes, among such activities, literature and arts. We should seek to find time in our busy schedule for things other than work, things which Clement refers to as having "nobler sentiments." Leaving margin in our lives for such activities add value and satisfaction to our otherwise mundane existence. Finally, he adds this advice. When attempting to re-calibrate our necessity for sleep, we should do it in a manor that is gradual and gentle. Don't start off saying you will rise two hours earlier or stay up two hours later for reading and other "noble" activities. Start with just ten or fifteen minutes and build a habit. You can repeat this until you reclaim the desired amount time you are attempting,

David Robison

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