If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ve probably been shocked by something you saw there. No, I’m not referring to their many highly-skilled pickpockets nor to their buses stuffed to the gills with human beings. No, I’m referring to the Roman practice of siesta.
If you’re shopping near the Vatican, for example, precisely at noon many of the shop keepers will shoo you out of their tiny stores, bolt their doors behind you, and stay closed for several hours while they eat lunch and rest.
It’s not just Rome either. It’s all of Italy. And France. And Spain. The afternoon nap is a venerable tradition in many countries–though in some places the tradition is eroding. I for one wish we North Americans would adopt the siesta or nap. Admit it. After you eat your lunch, don’t you feel the natural inclination to take a short snooze? Most of us feel this urge, but in our culture we ignore it. In fact we fight against it. We guzzle more caffeine, we splash cold water on our face, and we push onward into the afternoon. We assume (because of our Puritan background I suspect) that nothing as pleasurable as a nap can be morally decent. Besides, sleeping for 30 minutes or so in the middle of the day is terribly unproductive–and we Americans pride ourselves in our productivity. After all, we can’t let those Chinese or Russians or Icelanders get ahead of us!
That’s why it’s good to consider the cat, the expert in napping. The writer Barbara Holland says, “A perfectly healthy cat can nap through the entire month of February and wake feeling all the better for it.” Cats don’t let their responsibilities interfere with napping: all those uncaught mice, all those balls of yarn to play with. Instead they simply lower themselves into “sensuous, fur-lined sleep.”
I confess, I take a nap almost every day. I explain this laxity by saying, “It’s my age.” I never tell my age, but I will tell you this: I have been around the sun 68 times! And all those frequent flyer miles have taken their toll on my body. Hence I nap. I also nap because of a physical condition I have, one that is accompanied by persistent fatigue. See? I’ve given you two very good excuses for napping–as if I couldn’t just say: I nap because it feels so good–and I feel better when I wake up 30 minutes later.
When I nap, I’m in good company. The poet John Milton supposedly wrote Paradise Lost in bed. Winston Churchill wrote all those voluminous histories in between his daily naps–and sips of brandy. And all the recent Popes took naps too. I bet Pope Francis will! I fully realize that napping is not practical for everyone. My dentist better not nap while he’s working on my root canal–and the pilot better not nap while she’s flying me to Omaha.
Did Jesus take naps? Maybe. In his culture, napping was acceptable–largely because of the heat. And didn’t he fall asleep in a boat once–so soundly he would have slept through a terrible storm if his friends hadn’t awakened him? And if you still need convincing to take a nap, don’t forget those beautiful words from Psalm 127: “It is vain for you to put off your rest…to eat bread earned by anxious toil–while God gives to his beloved while they sleep.”
What are some of your thoughts on napping?