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Jan Brueghel Hans Rottenhammer Christus in het voorgeborchte

Awaken the Sleepers

March 30, 2024


Easter Sunday is nearly upon us. These forty days of Lenten fasting, praying, and almsgiving have nearly come to a close. But before we celebrate with a late-night Easter Vigil, candles flickering, or mid-morning Sunday Mass that follows after the chocolate eggs are all hidden throughout the yard, Holy Saturday has to find us sleeping. 

Sleep? How? We live in a 24/7 news cycle, social media cycle, and a blur of jolting noise from each and every blessed device in our homes. From a smartphone to a virtual assistant like Alexa to the pings of our digital grocery cart, we have never been more stimulated and yet more passive at the same time. Scrolling an Instagram feed saturated in muted tones or an on-demand movie channel with every option, but nothing appealing, has become our normal. We’re so numbed to sleep, and yet sleep has no deep rest because it comes while watching our big screen or listening to our AirPods. Instead of rest, we find a blank space between days, between drinking one more glass of wine in the evening to put ourselves down and slamming multiple shots of caffeine in the morning to jolt ourselves up. To be awakened, let us first be sleepers.

But what does it mean to be a sleeper? If this Holy Saturday is to be set apart—perhaps the first Holy Saturday in all your years that you are going to allow God to move your heart to rest—what would that look like? Can you allow the Divine Physician, he who came to heal after being wounded, to slow the beat of your own heart to match his?

I first encountered the silence of rest—real rest, divinely formed rest—in the year 2023. I had taken a big step back from working, was caring for one of our children who was ill, and accepted an invitation to do an extended 30-day (modified to a 30-week) retreat with a spiritual director. This was akin to what’s known as the 19th annotation, a way for lay people with busy lives to experience the gift of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. My husband encouraged me to do it. But to do so meant actually, well, living like I was on a retreat despite having five loudish kids, a messy household, and a chocolate habit I was trying to break. 

Ask him to lull you to sleep so he can transform your heart and awaken you to himself. 

So I reluctantly stepped away from my Instagram, unplugged my social calendar, turned off my comfort streaming shows, and forgot about my loud playlists. Each morning, I stumbled upstairs to our third-floor prayer room around 4:47 a.m. to read Sacred Scripture, pray, and try to listen while yawning loudly. And for months I couldn’t hear much. My mind was still crowded with the vestiges of my busy life, my loud life, my life that looked like I was really active and awake. My life that, in many ways, was trying to run away from the vulnerable posture of resting. 

Because when we’re resting, we’re quiet. And then we face our loudest accuser: Satan, Prince of Lies, the one who will work tirelessly to make us feel unloved and unlovable. But maybe in the rest, Our Lord can come and remind us of who we are and Whose we are. Maybe the reality of our identity as sons and daughters of God can actually emerge past the accusations, past the self-doubt, to puncture through our self-reliance.

What I heard toward the end of my retreat was . . . silence. And in that silence was a deep presence. I had thought that it would end with some sort of dramatic crescendo, a you-did-it-and-stayed-awake-for-most-Holy-Hours kind of celebratory congratulations. But as it turned out, those final many weeks of being in silence, both externally and interiorly, simply drew me through the depths of my being to the simplest truth. God desires me, not my work or my doing, but myself. God desires you. God desires to be our every heartbeat, our every breath. And when we allow life to quiet down, to be asleep, as vulnerable as that may feel, then he can awaken us to a new life with him. 

If you haven’t read the ancient homily that’s the Second Reading for the Holy Saturday Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, do yourself a favor and read it. This poetry tells of Christ going to open the gates of heaven for Adam and Eve: “[Christ] took [Adam] by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’” Do you want to hear these words from Jesus on Easter Sunday? It begins by being asleep, docile to his voice, in a quieted home with a quieted heart. It ends with this invitation:

Rise, let us leave this place. . . . The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Christ comes in all his glory to awaken us, to ask you and me to step into what has been prepared for us for all eternity. 

If that isn’t incentive enough to silence notifications, sign up for time in Adoration, and to stop the continual movement we’re all tempted to, I understand. If making these changes sound pie-in-the-sky, I agree. If being both numbly awake and barely asleep have become the only way of life you know, you’re not alone. There is only one solution: Ask Jesus to do it for you and then let him. Ask him to move the mountains in your way. Ask him to lull you to sleep so he can transform your heart and awaken you to himself.