Father Peter Clarke

From the Diocese of Bridgetown

SLEEPWALKING By Fr. Peter Clarke, OP

SLEEPWALKING  By Fr. Peter Clarke, OP

I must have my own space! I must have my own time! On Sunday morning with several Masses to celebrate and sermons to preach, the last thing I need is to be rushed, without having the leisure to loosen my limbs and tune into God -after the heavy drowsiness of a good night's sleep.

And so it happened that on one Sunday morning both my usually reliable 'body clock' and my alarm clock failed to awaken me. Neither did the Holy Spirit or any of my Guardian Angels. Far be it from me to suggest that they were sleeping at their posts.

The time came when two worthy parishioners were pounding on my door and calling my name. Much was their relief to find that I was still half alive in a distant drowsy fashion. They told me I was already late and that there was no need to stampede myself into action.

In the twilight world of semi-consciousness I groped my way to the car. As I made my drowsy way down the aisle of the church I heard a small boy whisper, "Mummy, Father's still asleep!" True! True! True! With my head aching at the effort of trying to become devotional, and, harder still, to sound coherent, I would not be surprised if many in the congregation thought I was talking in my sleep as well as sleep walking.

One of today's worn out clichés is people talking about their having got their act together, at long last and after so much effort...not without moments of elation and heart-break. To reach the peak and remain at the top is an enviable achievement.

But then I pause. What if God saw it fitting for my personal formation that I should never feel totally secure, never utterly self-confident? What if throughout my life it were needful for me to be continually aware of my creaturely fragility? Then, surely if ever anything that I attempted were to "come off" just as I intended, instinctively I would say, "Thank you God, for bringing me through."

For me it simply is not true that practice makes perfect. Having been Fr. Reliable for so many years is no guarantee that I will wake up at a given time on any given Sunday. I've heard it said of some priests that they have preached so many sermons they could do it in their sleep.

Come to think of it, I remember a time when I was surging through my sermon when it seemed as though there were a power-cut in my brain. For a while my brain went blank. When I returned to the real world I wondered where I was and what I was doing. What could I do but ask an altar server what was going on? Politely he told me he thought I was preaching. Obviously I had failed to make much of an impact on him.

What to do but to tell the congregation God had shut me down for a moment, and this I took to be an indication that He wanted me to shut up. Since no one protested I suggested we recite the Creed together. This certainly restored my wavering self-confidence.

My personal experience tells me that at the very time when I'm doing something important for God, He allows me to have a "power failure" and a "black out" in my preaching. He even allows my inner being to be in a state of flux. He's teaching me never to think in terms of my performance or my personal achievement. Mine is to be the instability of a jelly and the insecurity of walking on shifting sands.

I and the People of God are to be made to realize and accept what God has to offer: Preachers and Ministers who are no better and no worse than, "earthenware pots holding a priceless treasure, so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own," 2 Cor. 4. 7).

It's somewhat unnerving not to know what God is liable to let happen to me once I set about doing something for Him! For the elite this may mean martyrdom. For the likes of me it may come down to a fuzzy head or loose bowels! Such is my spirituality of encountering and serving the Divine, 'mywaygodsway'. This I must learn to live with, and, I fancy, so must you!

Peter Clarke O.P.

The Bible As Prayer: A Bible Month Event