Culture & Religion
December Tue 18, 2012
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We are in the time of year when the days are shorter and, consequently, the nights are longer. With artificial light, means of transport always active, and the ability to get information from all over the world even at three in the morning, we almost do not notice the difference. For thousands of years, however, the long winter night was really frightening, aided by the frost that made the roads impassable, the darkness in which unexpected dangers lurk. The night appeared as an enemy, evil and full of anguish. This is why, at this time of year, when the annual cycle reverses and the day begins to nibble away minutes from the night, many civilizations celebrate the festival of the sun, the feast of the narrow escape from the shadows that attempt to definitively swallow up the light. But the night is also the time of sleep, which fortifies the person. However, describing the glorious future Jerusalem, waited for by early Christians and all their descendants, the Apocalypse of St. John says that, in it “there shall be no more night”. Why is that? Sleep is essential for rest, to replenish energy, to relieve suffering, and to suspend worry. If one does not sleep, one can go crazy (it is a method of torture used by many dictatorships), and difficulty sleeping is a sad feature of we modern people, little presumptuous Prometheuses who must rely on a pill to do what any child can do quite naturally. True, the night's sleep has immense value and is undoubtedly useful. Yet it is also the time when something strange happens: we lose our self-awareness, we detach ourselves from our knowledge of ourselves. We can see this when we wake up and feel lost, like children catapulted into an unknown country. We feel all the weight of having to start over, as if the night had erased what little we had been able to build, as if our path were unnaturally interrupted, and new walls were erected where we thought to have torn them down. We have the feeling that something dark happened in us and around us while we were sleeping. We are tempted nihilistically to turn our backs, to slip back into unconsciousness, to avoid the trouble of building once again, or else we are tempted (and this is equally nihilistic) to throw ourselves into a frenzy of tasks just to hide the discomfort of awakening.
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