26 October 2006

Sleeping for Jesus

There comes a time every semester when Tera and I joke about becoming modern Messalians. For the most part, no one really knows much about the Messalians – most of what we know about them comes from reports and condemnations of 4th and 5th century church councils and synods. Out of the murky waters of second-hand (probably none too generous) descriptions of their beliefs, there is one basic tenet of the movement that rises to the surface: all you have to do to obtain salvation is pray without ceasing. (Emphasis on the "without ceasing.") All those other practices, like fasting, receiving the sacraments or being a part of the church, are worthless according to these guys and gals. (They were a co-ed bunch.) So – all that salvation requires is constant prayer. Now, it’s not uncommon to find people throughout the history of the church emphasizing various ways of practicing continuous prayer. It’s one of the Messalians’ distinct prayer techniques that makes them interesting to us... well, at least interesting enough joke about defecting to their now non-existent ranks.

“Since their goal was unceasing prayer, some groups determined that dreams were a form of prayer. One can only dream while asleep, so excessive sleep was considered a spiritual discipline and this ‘discipline’ was conducted anywhere at any time, even in the open streets of Antioch.”
(From Robert Kitchen’s introduction to the Liber Graduum)

Sleep? As a spiritual discipline?!?! Sign me up!!! (At least we’d be well-rested heretics…)

It sounded so good... and then I discovered that one of the major leaders of the Messalians was named Alexander the Sleepless. I guess that other Messalians held the other extreme and said that no one should sleep at all because they need to be praying 24-7. Perhaps the “sleeping for Jesus” folks were reacting against that, and spiritualizing their decision to “sell-out” a bit. (“Sleeping for Jesus” – wouldn’t that make a great t-shirt?) We Christians just can't seem to help but do that pendulum swing thing, can we? Alas, maybe it’s not as appealing an option as I thought…

Come to think of it, few of my dreams would qualify as prayers anyway. That would be a (large!) stretch. Well, it’s still kind of fun to laud the Messalian sleepers around midterm time!


Tera said...

Glad to see a post about my favorite heresy. You're right about the pendulum swing thing. I just wonder what issues we tend to push the pendulum too far on--it's hard to tell.

Amber Lee said...


This made me laugh inside...thanks. :)

Kelli said...

Fortunately, Tera, I think we've managed to strike a happy medium with the sleeping thing! Sleep - not a spiritual evil, and also not your only ticket through the pearly gates. Would that our other "pendulum" issues were as easy to resolve!

Oh, Amber Lee, I love it when you laugh! (Was there any clapping involved? :)) How I miss your sweet face!