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Heavenly peace

As I have said previously, I have been mulling over Christmas lyrics. Lines that I haven’t thought about for years suddenly pop out at me as we decorate the tree and hang tinsel everywhere.

There’s one line that has been bugging me though. It’s the one from Silent Night. It’s possibly the most foreign concept to the modern world. No one has a foggy clue what it’s about. The line?

“Sleep in heavenly peace”.

Seriously? When last did any of us sleep in heavenly peace? If it’s not tumultuous news headlines and chronic work stress keeping us awake, it’s those damn mosquitoes! No wonder so many insect spray companies call it “Peaceful Sleep” – it’s almost like they’re trying to sell an insurance policy.

Come to think of it, there were probably a boatload more than just mozzies around baby Jesus. Ticks more like it. I wonder what kind of Dooms-day pesticide Mary and Joseph had at their disposal?

Some might identify with the notion of a lack of sleep. Mine has to do with a concrete slab of a mattress.

Back aches and interrupted, uncomfortable sleep make for grumpy humans across the globe. I’ve decided that a proper mattress goes a long way to world peace. It should be a human right, actually. Before a tax rebate, you should be able to claim your comfortable mattress from the state.

But back to this Silent Night lyric. The whole sound of the carol is a real lullaby, and makes for a nice contrast to the world we live in.

It suddenly struck me that these things start becoming “a litany of things I never thought I’d be”, as Ben Rector says. When I was kid, I had no trouble sleeping. Mental health issues revolved around whether or not I would get to bat in the following day’s cricket match, or what time our friends or family were coming to visit. That was all that kept me up at night.

Nowadays, sleep deprivation is an actual thing for many adults. The stats speak for themselves.

More than 20% of the general adult population in the U.S. and Canada have reported experiencing insomnia (Sleep Research Society, 2012), and a 2019 Philips Global Sleep Survey reported that 62% of adults around the world say they don’t sleep as well as they’d like, as many as 67% of adults report sleep disturbances at least once every night. On top of that, 8 in 10 adults around the world want to improve their sleep but 60% have not sought help from a medical professional. And that report was three years ago… the numbers are probably higher now.

Some lay the blame at the door of modern technology and particularly, mobile phones. It’s a fascinating exercise to go through screen time data and audit how much time I spend on my phone and what I’m actually spending it on. I did a check with some of my students. Comparatively, my 3 hours of screen time is dwarfed by their 6-8 hours each day. I ask them about the quality of their sleep. They said most nights are “okay”. Clearly, it’s not “heavenly” nor peaceful.

Sleeplessness is often caused by one of two things, according to Wisdom Hunter writer Jill Hooper.

“Our refusal to ask forgiveness of another person or our worry about the future,” she writes. “It’s probably happened to each of us at one time or another. We wake up and as we roll over, one itty bitty thought comes — often of regret or anxiety.”

Like I said, the lyrics and the music in this carol contrasts the modern world we live in.

For me the question is: how DO you sleep at night if you’re not? How do you attain this heavenly peace?

Red wine? Exercise? Psychotherapy?

All of the above?

They’ll bring a certain measure of peace. But it won’t necessarily be heavenly.

Somewhere in the manger scene is the answer. Someone tender and mild. Someone who will grew up to be a man of sorrows. 

So that we don’t have to be.

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