The Gift of Sleeping in Church

Sometimes an idea, a thought captures my attention. I may push it aside or forget about it, but later it resurfaces. An experience, a conversation, something will bring it back to my consciousness. Repeatedly bringing a thought to mind is sometimes the way that my intuition gets my attention. That is what happened with falling asleep in Church. And sometimes I eventually feel called to share the thought. So when Pam asked me to speak, I knew what the title of this talk would be, but not what I would say. When I told Kay the title of this talk, she sent me the following joke:


As they were on the way to church service, a Sunday school teacher asked her children 'And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?' 

One bright little girl replied, 'Because people are sleeping.’


I sometimes fall asleep in Church, especially during the talk. Falling asleep when I am sitting has long been a problem for me. It started my freshman year of college when I had Mononucleosis. Mononucleosis became a dominant presence in my life and we talked about it so much that we just called it Mono. Mono interferes with getting nourishment and oxygen to the cells in the body and thus I spent a great deal of time sleeping and had no energy. I remember walking up the stairs from my room in the basement of my parent’s house. When I reached the top, my legs felt like I had run a mile. That is how much Mono sapped my energy.


I continued to go to college but was falling asleep in my classes. I did drop a class or two, but would not drop out because of the government incentive program. The incentive program was called the Vietnam War. The way this program worked was that if I remained in school and made normal progress, I had a student deferment. If I failed to make normal progress, I would be drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam where many were dying. A number of my friends and relatives died in Vietnam. Due to this incentive program, I had to go to Summer School to make up the classes that I had dropped. I hated going to School in the Summer but it was better than going to Vietnam.


After I no longer had Mono, I continued to have trouble staying awake in class. My doctor said that it was a conditioned response and that I could overcome it. I tried a number of things, but never found a way. College professors had different reactions to student’s sleeping in class. They would ask a question of a sleeping student, or somehow purposely embarrass them, or even throw an eraser and hit them (if you don’t know what an eraser is, ask an older person). One of the things from my college days was what one of my professors said. Someone asked him how he dealt with sleeping students. He said that a sleeping student was a sign that they really needed to sleep or that his lecture was really boring. He felt that in either case, it was better not to wake or call attention to the student.


I really appreciated his approach and have always remembered it.


In our culture, falling asleep in class, in Church, or other social events is considered to be wrong. It violates an expectation that we will honor a speaker. In our culture there is an unspoken agreement that I will put everything that I can into this talk to make it my best, and that you will reciprocate by paying attention. In this way, the knowledge that I have will be transferred to you. Traditionally that is why we come to Church. That is why we have trained ministers.


There is another factor that I would like to tell you about. The most important part of my day is my morning meditation. I usually get up about 5:30 am and meditate for at least an hour. Sometimes I wake up earlier. This can be as early as 2, 3, or 4 am. This morning it was 4 am. I get up, get dressed, and meditate. In spite of these early morning hours I do not fall asleep. Years ago I was reading a book by a famous swami. A book I found in the library of this Church. He wrote: It is well known that the best time to meditate is between 4 and 6 am. At the time, I didn’t believe that this was true, but I have found that it is true for me. These early morning meditations have changed my life – much more than what I have ever learned in Church. (Of course I might have learned more had I stayed awake.) After my morning meditation, I do physical exercise for over an hour, and work around the house. So by the time I get to Church, I have had a busy morning and could use a nap.


A further factor is the meditative state of our Church service. In our service, I often feel the call to move into meditation. Part of the Unity tradition is to look beyond, to look deeper, to pay attention to what we are feeling inside. Thus I often close my eyes and go deeper. Meditation can be thought of as consciously entering levels that we access while asleep. Thus it is easy to slip from a meditative level into sleep.


All of these factors combine so that I tend to fall asleep in Church.


Now it is easy for me to rationalize this situation and justify why the situation is beyond my control. But that is not where I want to go.


What I want to do is to find the gift.


So this talk is not really about falling asleep anymore than that doorway is this Lodge. That doorway is very real and very important, but it is not this space nor is it this church service. It is part of the way that I got here.


Sleeping in Church is a doorway that I have to see deeper. To realize that the most important part of my day is my morning meditation, to realize that falling asleep (for whatever reasons) is part of who I presently am. And to recognize that I come to Church for the experience, for the friendship, and for the support on my spiritual path. I take time out to come to Church. My time in Church includes a lot more than the morning talk. It includes being in a nurturing environment, having friends who accept that I am human and call me to a higher purpose. So the contract for me is not so much about the transfer of knowledge or staying awake. It is for acceptance and to feel supported. The contact is, if I want to be supported and to be accepted, then I need to support and accept others.


One of my favorite quotes is from Rev. Rodney Romney who said “The purpose of the Church should be to support us on our spiritual journey, not to tell us what it is.” One of the things that I strongly believe is that we should be able to speak our truth in our Church. Not to convert or convince others, but to help us find our own truth. To encourage others to speak their truth. Keeping in mind that our truth and the truth of others may change. In fact it is important that it changes because that is part of growth. To encourage speaking the truth, we need to be able to do so without shame or blame.


One of my measures of a Church service is if I come away feeling better. It is wonderful to learn something, to be uplifted, to be inspired, and to feel Love. To feel closer to GOD, to recognize that part of myself that is Divine. I guess falling asleep reminds me that I am Human. However, feelings are the language of the Soul. So when I come away from a Church feeling better, that can be my Soul telling me that it was good. As Hank (one of the members of this Church) reminds us, we come to Church to feed our Soul.


I am reading The Misleading Mind, “How we create our own problems and how Buddhist Psychology can help us solve them.” In the book is the story of three umpires sitting at a bar sharing a beer together. They begin talking about their job and the difficulties they face in calling balls and strikes.


The first umpire states quite confidently, “There are balls and there are strikes and I call them as they are!” The second umpire, with a slight look of disapproval says, “No. There’s balls and there’s strikes and I call them as I see’em.” The third umpire says, “You know, you’re both wrong. There’s balls and there’s strikes and they ain’t nothing until I call them.”


The author then wrote the following: The first umpire clams we perceive the World as it actually exists. The second umpire claims we interpret the world that exists. The third claims we create the world through our perception of it.


The point is: It ain’t nothing until you call it something.


If we can change our perspective, we can change how we create our World. We can change how we call what we see.


One of the Buddhist teachings in the book is to see the mind as a mirror. A mirror reflects what is held in front of it, but the mirror does not change. So the mind reflects what we hold, but the true nature of the mind is not changed.


My Father taught me that there is good in everything. We find what we look for. So if we look for good, we will find it.


Many of the important messages that have come to me, have come in meditation. Some insights and support about these messages have come from my family and friends and via Church services.


Many teachings and lessons have come in Church. One that I want to be sure and mention is when I am giving a talk, as I am today, and someone is falling asleep, that is my test. How do I see this and how do I react? Hopefully as guided by the golden rule.


My reaction, my behavior comes from my perspective. I find that I don’t know is one of the most powerful statements that I can make. There is so much that I don’t know about others and I try to remember this to challenge my perspective.


So I think that today’s talk, this teaching for me, is not about sleeping in Church, it is about perspective. And the power of perspective; both my perspective and the perspective of those around me. I consciously choose to spend time with people who have a positive perspective.


Part of my perspective is the importance of consciously following my spiritual path. Sometimes this is not easy and it is important to work through challenges. Part of my challenge is to come to Church in spite of sometimes falling asleep. Certainly I could avoid the challenge of falling asleep in Church by not coming to Church. However, I do feel that this Church and you are part of my spiritual path. I consciously choose to come to this Church.


Well today’s talk was hopefully long enough for a good nap.


(What followed this talk was a guided meditation intended to help us change our perspective. This meditation was prompted by a question from René, a member of this Church.)

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