“So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” — Genesis 2:3
“You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” — St. Augustine of Hippo
My Dad worked for 38 years at the General Motors assembly plant in Linden, New Jersey. This meant rising at 4:30 a.m. and driving with other men in Bayonne to get there by 7 a.m. In that case, work ended at 3 p.m. and Dad fell asleep in a comfortable chair, completely exhausted.
When studying overseas in my early 20s, I adopted the habit of the Germans in taking an afternoon siesta. That continued when I worked teaching college at various institutions. Some peers and family members thought I was lazy, but I knew better. A short nap energized me so that I accomplished more than I would have if I went ‘nap-less.’
I found it reassuring in reading the book of Genesis 2:3 when it states that the Lord “rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done in creation.” As I recollect, the verb “rested” (Hebrew “shabat”) is the basis of the noun “sabbath” (Exodus 31:12-17). Hence, I found biblical support for my daily afternoon rest.
In dealing with the trials and tribulations of Covid-19, nothing can take away the pleasure of an afternoon siesta or, if that’s not possible, a good night’s sleep. The French writer, Charles Péguy suggests that sleep may be “the most beautiful thing” God created.
Many people today can’t sleep because they cannot pay their rent, or power bill, or even go hungry because their jobs have been eliminated. Others cannot find jobs or if they do, the available ones aren’t sufficient to make ends meet. No wonder they find it difficult to sleep.
I’ve been down and out without a job when I was young and had to collect unemployment insurance. Today, however, things are much worse on account of Covid-19.
I am reminded of the ditty, “It’s hard to find a glimmer of light when worrisome thoughts darken the night.” I have found that 95 percent of my worries never come to be, yet this doesn’t translate into quieting my anxiety. When unable to sleep, I find it best to arise, have cereal, and then go back to sleep. If that doesn’t work, I use autogenic training to do the trick.
When studying theology at the University of Wuerzburg, I took a course in the School of Medicine on autogenic training and hypnosis with Dr. Wiesenhuetter, a psychiatrist. Autogenic training taught me how to relax and deal with stress. It was a technique developed in 1932 by Dr. Johannes Schultz in Berlin.
Autogenic training has six steps: 1) Inducing heaviness throughout one’s muscles; then 2) Inducing warming in one’s arms, legs, and stomach; 3) Slowing down one’s heartbeat; 4) Controlling one’s breathing; 5) Relaxing one’s abdominal; and 6) Sensing the coolness in one’s forehead. One should not do these practices without a doctor’s supervision because they involve interfering with one’s autonomic nervous system.
Actually, I only do the first three steps. By inducing heaviness in my body, I am able to relax and sleep. If I’m upset about something and wake up in the middle of the night, I can stop my repetitive thought patterns by inducing heaviness throughout my body. In doing this, I’m able to relax and go to sleep.
Finally, I conclude with a few words from my favorite poet, George Herbert, who speaks of rest in the poem, “The Pulley.”
“When God at first made man, having a glass of blessings standing by; Let us (said he) pour on him all we can’ … So “God made a stay, perceiving that alone of all his treasure Rest in the bottom lay. For if I should … bestow this jewel also on my creature, He would adore my gifts instead of me, Yet let him keep the rest, but keep them with repining restlessness … If goodness lead him not, yet weariness may toss him to my breast.”
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.