Every parent of every child may argue that any nap is a holy nap. And I wouldn’t disagree. I love napping children as much as anybody. But my kids are now 11 and almost eight, which means napping is largely a thing of the past. With one exception.
Almost every Sunday, shortly after the beginning of our church service, Isaac leans to one side, puts his his feet up on the pew, his head in one of our laps, and falls asleep. I’ve come to think of it as his holy nap.
Sleeping in church
There are plenty of jokes to be made when it’s grownups who sleep in church, like how boring the sermon is and how long the minister drones on. But I have to give credit to Father Jimmy, whose weekly offerings are thoughtful and engaging and blessedly brief. There are some ministers who can put an hours worth of thought into a 10-minute homily and others who can put 10 minutes of thought into an hour-long sermon. Jimmy, thankfully, is one of the former.
Kids rarely listen to the sermon, granted. Whatever Father Jimmy says or doesn’t say probably isn’t a factor in Isaac’s weekly nap. So what is? Why, when other children are coloring their bulletins and doing their best to sit still, is Isaac sound asleep?
Where the world slows down
I have a theory. I think church is the one place where the world slows down enough for Isaac to truly rest. And that is a beautiful thing. Our church is not big on performance and entertainment. It is, in my view, properly oriented toward the transcendent, drawing us away from the pressures of popularity and achievement to sit in the presence of God. I think Isaac feels in his bones that this is a place where he doesn’t have to do anything–at all–to fit in or prove his worth. He can finally just rest.
For a child who works ten times harder than most just to make it through his day, whose mind is often racing, and who struggles to attend to the moment, Isaac’s weekly nap is a sacred thing.
On more than one occasion, Father Jimmy has noticed Isaac, still asleep in one of our laps during communion. When the nap runs long, he comes over to give Isaac a blessing and to offer us the elements, as he would to anyone who is physically unable to walk to the altar. Because at church, when we do it right, everyone is included.
A holy nap
Most Sundays, Isaac awakens before communion, and we all walk to the front of the church together. This past Sunday, before it was our turn, the choir started singing “In the Garden,” which I confess, is not one of my favorite hymns. Isaac sat up, suddenly awake, and said, “This is Elvis!” Which, of course, made us laugh.
(An aside: I actually like the hymn better when Elvis sings it, because it makes me think of my dad. And I wonder if, as a child, I ever propped my feet up on the pew and rested my head in his lap. God knows, he was a safe place for me.)
We might be tempted to think that an 11 year-old should start to participate more in the service. That maybe we should shake him awake when it’s time to stand or kneel (as it often is in the Episcopal Church!). But I think Isaac is doing exactly the right thing when he quiets his body and closes his eyes and gives himself over to a rare moment of peace. He is simply being a child of God.