I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.
~Vincent Van Gogh
How long the night seems to one kept awake by pain.
~Bernard Joseph Saurin, Blanche et Guiscard, translated
12:30 am. No sign of sleep.
It is dark, quiet, at least in the world external to my mind, nothing is moving about…what is it about the night?
There are sleepless nights that I find friendly. During these nights, there are no demands on my mind–other than the nagging back-of-my-mind reminder that the alarm clock will soon sound and I’ll be tired all day. But on these nights, even that seems an easy price to pay.
During these kinds of nights my soul feels free. During the daylight, you see, there are rules to be followed and responsibilities to perform and schedules to keep; I never feel quite free to let my mind roam: free to think thoughts that seem important to think, free to bend over and examine what is under every thought-rock, free to contemplate all there is. During the daylight hours, whenever I do let my mind roam so, I miss my turn or the driver behind me honks because the light has gone green–someone went around me today. In the daylight, I’ve found, I must always be attentive to the outer world, to be present to something or some other. How constricting and tiresome it can be.
In the early 1940s, before the US entered World War II, American pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote the poem, “High Flight,” to express what it was like for him to fly. Sadly, Magee died in a midair collision shortly after penning this poem. Having also flown, his poem is meaningful to me. And, it describes the free feeling I have in my soul during this kind of night, these friendly nights. Here’s is Magee’s poem:
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace Where never lark, or even eagle flew. And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
“Touching the face of God” is a phrase that resonates deeply within me. You see, contemplation, the highest form of knowing, is a form of reaching out and touching the face of God; it is beholding in love one’s Beloved. It is the greatest form of happiness. Wonderful nights!
There is another night, the kind when freedom is replaced by exhaustion. During these nights my mind may race from thought to thought like a glutton shoveling food with both hands, never stopping to savor. Still other times my mind repeats thoughts, rehearsing them over and over and over and over like a scratched 45. Are you old enough to have used a record player?
There is a worse night: a night of torment. There have been many of these lately. In these nights I am awake with a problem or pending conflict, my mind churning and grinding, breaking thought boulders into rocks, then into peebles, then into fine sand. Finally, after what can be hours, the problem is diagnosed, the conflict seen for what it is. And then…
…a solution begins to form. My mind shifts gears, now whining, high pitched at a very high RPM, rapidly sifting through ideas, combinations and connections with other thoughts are made, evaluated, and discarded or retained. A web of solution slowly takes shape, layer upon layer. The earlier layers are forgotten and must be rediscovered; a higher gear yet, and the whining in my head again increases in pitch with the change in RPM. Finally, the problem is solved, elegantly or the path to resolving conflict is found, usually by a dramatic, self-righteous speech. I am eager for the morrow! But wait! Is this really the answer? And, it begins again, the boulders have reformed. Is this what insanity is like? It is certainly Satan’s playground.
The worst part of these nights of torment is the appearance of the light of day. Photons strike the hard-won solution or reflect the words of the self-righteous speech only to illuminate the foolishness. The night was a waste. Now I’m just tired.
Worst yet are the nights filled with the pain of love. A number of spiritual writers throughout the centuries refer to God’s “wound of love.” It is the deep longing for God that He inflicts upon us, a painful yearning that will never be fully satisfied until after death. A night of sleepless longing filled with happiness and joy.
It is at this point I find that the circle is completed, the nights of wounded longing meet the friendly nights of a freed soul…
1:25am, and still no sign of sleep.