I am increasingly fascinated by the relationship between prayer and sleep. I have written on this before, but all I manage to say describes an absence, like writing a treatise on a vacuum. This is not the absence of God—rather it is the presence of God unmediated by word and image, that leaves an absence of knowing. God is he whom the mind cannot grasp, since he is far more in all ways than any human mind can comprehend. If he were not, he would not be God. We cannot really comprehend another human being, however close they may be to us.
We may not be able to grasp the incomprehensible, but we can love. Our love reaches out to the unknowable in each other, and still more it reaches out to God, calling back to the unimaginable love that God is.
Lent is a curious time. We follow in our minds the journey of Christ to the Cross, and as we do so (if we give our hears as well as our minds to the task) we draw closer to that path ourselves, and to that encounter with God. As Jesus himself put it (John 14.7 NIV) “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.”
What has this to do with sleep? God sometimes can use our prayers in the hours of sleep in ways the waking mind not would understand. In the post I linked above, I wrote:
What is happening here? I think that God is reaching down to these hidden, seemingly forgotten connections with the needs and pains and brokenness of others, and is retrieving our unspoken prayers in the silence of contemplation, or of sleep. This is an extraordinary, profound thing, and I think it is here that the distinction between dream and prayer becomes blurred. To be honest, there is much I simply don’t know about these shadowed paths of prayer, but I think that possibly, if we (as is often attested to in the Orthodox tradition) find ourselves praying the Prayer as we go to sleep, it will run quietly on in some part of our mind even in the deepest sleep, and our hearts, remaining attuned to God in Christ Jesus, will be open to that gentle touch that lifts our memories to prayer. And who is to say that our dreams may not echo that divine lifting, that holy, unthought-of participation in the work of redemption that goes on, even as the Cross goes on, in every generation till our Lord’s return.
Our closer encounters with God leave the conscious mind merely with the awareness of its own limits, and it is natural to fear the unknown. In sleep our prayers can lead us beyond that point, deeper into God than we thought possible, and often we are left with dreams cast up on the shores of perception—strange spindrift, and the wrecks of heartbreak...
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...