TROUTMAN: The sacred nap


We say you can nap, snooze, doze, take a siesta, or get some shuteye. In Great Britain, they go down for a kip. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, “putting him down” can refer to the baby’s nap or euthanizing the family pet. Likewise, “drifted off” and “checked out” might refer to sleep or death. Dying is taking a dirt nap. Napping is becoming dead to the world. A catnap is a quick snooze, but to dognap is to steal a canine from someone else, an illegal activity like kidnapping. These lexical connections suggest uneasiness, if not fear, of sleep and, by extension, of rest.

By the fifteenth century, the word nap began to imply laziness and carelessness. One is “caught napping” with negative consequences. Naps are often considered to be appropriate only for babies, toddlers, or retired people. You don’t want to sleep on the job or take something lying down. Wake up! You can sleep when you’re dead.

The biblical book of Genesis tells us that God rested on the seventh day of creation. Perhaps embarrassed by this claim that the Almighty needed a nap, Psalm 121 asserts that God “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” In his interpretation of Genesis, Augustine maintained that God was not tired or worn out. But what if, by stating that God rested, this scripture meant something other than exhaustion or a lack of attention? What if rest is part of the divine intention for creation as much as activity, like the sea is to land and night is to day?

Emily Nagoski, PhD, has proven that workers who get more sleep are more efficient and creative. Simply put, a rested employee is a better employee. Yet Nagoski has a larger point to make: “You are not here to be ‘productive.’ You are here to be you, to engage with your Something Larger, to move through the world with confidence and joy. And to do that, you require rest.”

Tricia Hersey, the self-described Nap Bishop, advocates rest as release and liberation from “the grind culture” that equates production and labor with human worth. In her book, “Rest as Resistance,” Hersey writes, “We ignore our body’s need to rest, and in doing so, we lose touch with the Spirit.” On her blog, she adds, “Rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labor. We know that we are not machines. We are divine.”

A nap, then, is not only a means of self-care but also an expression of the sacred worth of human beings and our holy calling to be a part of the world's healing. This is a heady thought.

I’d better sleep on it.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church as well as a writer, pizza maker, coffee drinker and student of joy.