Sleep

If you were to ask students about me, I am confident one thing they would tell you is I like words.  And they would be correct.  I have been fascinated by words---probably since I began speaking.  Even though I have learned a few languages, I have never studied in an academic philosophical way the nature of language.  Maybe some day I will do that.  In the meantime, I continue my fascination with words and, by extension, with phrases and sentences. 
   
Of course, part of the early fascination with words was the discovery that there were different languages.  Although I was pretty provincial, early on I was aware there were some people who spoke “a strange language.”  There was a stream of annual migrant workers who came through my part of Indiana in the middle of the summer.  They would pick tomatoes before moving on north to Michigan for the fruit season.  Sadly, I was isolated from these folks, but I was exposed enough to know they normally did not speak English.  And if they did, they had an accent.
   
As luck would have it, I learned some languages and was able to live for a year in Germany when I was a graduate student.  I actually had to learn to speak “a strange language” and to use it in my adopted home for the year.  Even though I was decent in speaking German, I still had an accent and couldn’t get the jokes!  I gained even more appreciation for words and language.
   
As I studied more religion, I was exposed to the power of words.  I was fascinated with the flexibility and complexity of words.  I am not sure I paid enough attention in English classes in middle and high school when I first was taught about simile and metaphor.  If we understand those, then we begin to understand and appreciate the power and complexity of words.
   
In order to illustrate this, I focus on the word, sleep.  Everyone from about the age two knows what sleep is.  We do it every day.  We know there is a difference between going to bed and going to sleep.  How many times I raised my voice and told my kids, “Go to sleep!”  We use different forms of that word.  It is a verb, a noun and adverb.  We sleep; we go to sleep; and we claim to be sleepy.  Everyone knows what we mean.  I could give you the German word, but it functions the same way in that language.
   
But then, almost magically, the word, sleep, becomes more complex.  It is so commonplace in our culture, we never think about how complex language becomes.  For example, we talk about “sleepwalking though life.”  That is a way of saying I was alive, but not paying any attention.  Using the word in this fashion begins to show what happens when we move beyond the literal meaning of the word.
   
We all know what it means literally to go to sleep.  But when we use sleep in a figurative way, it suggests a way of looking at a particular activity.  If we sleepwalk through life, we are inattentive to what life has to offer.  It suggests that we need to wake up!  Wake up and pay attention.
   
As I studied in religion, there are times when writers use the metaphor of sleep to talk about specific spiritual states.  In early Christian literature sleep was used as a metaphor for ignorance.  It was a neat way to talk about people who were very much alive and maybe even paying attention to their normal life.  But those people could also be spiritually asleep.  They were ignorant. 
   
One of the primary functions of spirituality is to awaken folks to reality---their own reality, the reality of God and of the world.  Spirituality serves as a wake-up call.  That is what it did for me.  In my college years I felt like I was going through the motions.  I could get a degree, get a job but maybe never get a life.  I was afraid I might sleepwalk though my years.  Sleepwalking is a form of deadliness before you actually are dead.
   
I have gained two things since my college days.  I have garnered much knowledge.  It has been important knowledge for me personally, although I can well imagine it is not of much practical use for most folks.  And secondly, I have gained a fair amount of wisdom.  Wisdom adds to knowledge an element of experience and practical application.  I am not sleepwalking through life any more.
   
I know too much to be asleep.  And fortunately, I have enough wisdom to know how my life has meaning and purpose.  In fact, I have spent much of my adult life trying to share this knowledge and wisdom with folks who may be asleep or who fear falling asleep.  It has been fun and rewarding to offer a spiritual antidote to sleepwalking through life.
   
I am glad to be where I am.  I know each night I need to sleep.  I need a good night’s sleep to feel rested for the next day.  But I also have enough spiritual knowledge and wisdom to avoid sleepwalking through my life.  I will sleep, but I won’t sleepwalk.  I am blessed to know the difference.

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