INSOMNIA: They Who Fly Home To God

“Insomnia can become a form of contemplation. You just lie there, inert, helpless, alone, in the dark, and let yourself be crushed by the inscrutable tyranny of time. The plank bed becomes an altar and you lie there without trying to understand any longer in what sense you can be called a sacrifice.” (Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas)

Only they who fly home to God have flown at all.

Insomnia! A brand of coffee and a state of being! Being awake when you should be asleep. It’s been part of my whole life since childhood, though it’s less of an affliction now. Most religious people seem to resort to formal prayer like the rosary to help them through the dark hours. Not me! I just groan – “oh God!”

One such night many years ago my distress was so great that I sat up, took hold of my Bible and asked God to speak to me. What opened before me was Ezekiel Chapter 13, and I was particularly struck by verse 10:  “…they have misled my people by saying Peace! when there is no peace.”

My inclination is towards Peace, to be a peaceful presence in people’s lives, something that is central to my vocation but God seemed to be telling me not to presume peace, not to pretend peace when the conditions for it are not present. The spirits are always to be tested to see if they are true or false.  So too Peace must be tested to be sure that it’s true. Perfect Peace is the gift of Christ. He Himself is Peace – even in the depths of insomnia. And I am essentially a missionary of Peace.

Peace is spoken in each of the three readings from yesterday’s Mass – Peace flowing like a river, Peace in the Cross of Christ, Peace the first word to be spoken by the disciples of Jesus on entering a house. It is also the first and repeated Word of Jesus to his friends after His resurrection. We are Peace flowing like a river from the Eucharist into the streets of our town, into whatever place we enter, into every encounter.

It takes two to bring peace to birth in its fullness. If a person of peace lives in the house you enter then peace will remain; if not, it will depart with you. Peace is a relationship; it is mutual and reciprocal. It is a shared blessing. I discover this in a special way in visiting the sick. It would be a great mistake for me to think of myself as the strong going to the weak to offer them what they do not possess.  In such encounters I bless and am blessed by the other. Love responds to Love, Peace recognizes Peace.

I’m on a late train home having spent a lovely time overnight with two brother priests – how true the Psalm, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers live in unity. A true joy, an abiding Peace.

And I’ve been to see my aunt in hospital again. Really thought she was going to die, such was her distress, her colour ashen. While my sister ran to call the nurse, I held my aunt as I held my mother in her final illness, prayed whispering the name of Jesus and she rallied after being given oxygen and antibiotics. It’s difficult to see her in this state, extremely difficult for her daughter. You wonder how long! In the midst of her suffering all she was concerned about was that I would get a cup of tea. And she did it again – just as I was leaving, she held my face in her two hands to bless me and I put my two hands to hers in that embrace of my face. We blessed each other. It’s hard to decide whether to stay or go.

On my walk home from the station I said goodnight to a stranger standing in the shadows outside MacDonald’s. “It’s you!” he said with delight in his voice as he came towards me. I recognised him then as the man I rescued unconscious from the pavement on a cold wet night in March. He hugged me. “Bless you man” he said, “I love you!”

It’s the morning after now and insomnia had its way again. My aunt had a difficult night but is still with us. God give her what she needs this day.

The squabs (baby pigeons) are thriving, getting fatter by the day. Life ebbs and flows. They raise themselves to full stature as I look in on them. They will fly before I know it. May we all fly to whatever immediate destiny is ours and to our ultimate destiny in God!


Then I saw the wild geese flying
In fair formation to their bases in Inchicore,
And I knew that these wings would outwear the wings of war,
And a man’s simple thoughts outlive the day’s loud lying.

Don’t fear, don’t fear, I said to my soul:
The Bedlam of Time is an empty bucket rattled,
‘Tis you who will say in the end who best battled.
Only they who fly home to God have flown at all.

– Patrick Kavanagh