"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Made for Prayer

I am always on the lookout for strange things that speak to our human nature in a way that profoundly resonates with the experience of Christians throughout the ages.  Yesterday, I came across this TED talk about our natural sleep cycle.  It’s a talk that lasts for less than 6 minutes, and I really encourage you to take “the scientist’s” word for it rather than “the engineer who happens to be theologically intrigued”‘s word for it.

Over the last year or so, I have had the distinct privilege of meeting some rather fantastic monastic communities.  Their faithfulness in prayer, particularly as it relates to observing their own rule in their cells, blew my mind.  At least it did until I watched this TED talk.

Let me explain.

Jessa Gamble dropped a rather surprising sentence in her talk that observed when people live in the absence of artificial light and live near the equator, they generally go to bed at about 8pm, wake near midnight for a period of meditative contemplation, and then sleep again from about 2am until sunrise.  This natural cycle maps amazingly well to the monastic prayer cycles of Compline before bed, the Midnight office at midnight, and Matins at sunrise.  I never had any idea how monastics managed to keep with a prayer rule that incorporated the Midnight office until this TED talk introduced the idea that such a practice may be entirely natural.

Additionally, I thought it to be quizzical that our ability to observe such a natural cycle could be recreated if we avoid the artificial light in our lives.  When I contrast the compact florescent against the Light of Christ, it is pretty clear which source should have the upper hand.

But then again, it is absolutely mind-boggling to think about not living in a land of artificial light.  We schedule so much of our lives around the ability to stay in illumined spaces just that much longer to get all sorts of things done.  What would it possibly look like if we considered asking God to illumine our relationship with artificial light, both in the literal sense of the bulbs around our homes and in the figurative sense of the various idols we have?

O God, teach us to pray.

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5 responses

  1. B

    Nicely correlated! Prolactin and cortisol are secreted in response to stress (physiologic and psychosocial).

    It is observed in soldiers in battle as well as in students prior to examinations and oral presentations.

    Perhaps the idea of giving one’s account to Christ on judgment day is the reason the Orthodox pray the nightly prayer that contains: “Suddenly the Judge shall come, and the deeds of each shall be revealed: but with fear we cry out in the middle of the night: Holy, holy, holy art thou, O God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us.”

    Perhaps the fight or flight response in an Orthodox context would be better phrased fight or flight or fall down (prostration) and it is through repetition that we perfect the response.

    16 September 2010 at 10:40 am

    • Thanks so much for clarifying prolactin! I was hoping she would expand on the thought, but alas, it looked like there was some features of time limitations.

      16 September 2010 at 10:48 am

  2. This is pretty fascinating. So it may actually be easier to work, concentrate and live by following the monastic timetable of liturgical prayer than not! It’s funny because I too could never understand how it could be sustainable for a lifetime to not sleep a full night.

    18 September 2010 at 10:03 pm

  3. So I finally took the time to actually watch the video, and I found it absolutely fascinating. I can totally buy the idea that the monastic sleep schedule could reflect the way we were built to enjoy creation.

    It reminds me of the story of a group of Catholic monks who became sickly soon after Vatican II. A doctor came to examine them and after trying all sorts of things, asked them what had changed recently. It turns out that they had ceased to chant the liturgical hours since it was no longer required of them. The doctor told them to return to their previous practice, and within a week they were all back to full health. The doctor’s conclusion was that it was the chant that made them healthier, though now I’m wondering if they had changed the times at which they prayed the hours.

    The story is from Chanting the Psalms, though I don’t have it with me and may have mixed up some details.

    23 September 2010 at 2:04 pm

    • It’s certainly a well-done talk that is worth its six minutes.

      Greatly changing our devotional practices overnight can have an impact on our health. I’m reminded so often of people who jump into a full prayer rule right out of the gate. We typically don’t last long.

      Will have to investigate Chanting the Psalms. Thanks!

      23 September 2010 at 2:29 pm

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