"O When I Lay Me Down to Sleep"

"When thou approachest thy bed, because the time for sleep has come, say: O bed, perhaps thou wilt become my grave this night and I not know it. Perhaps instead of temporary sleep, eternal sleep will fall on me this night, while I thought of preparing for days and months, which I did not see.

As long as thou hast feet, run after the service of righteousness, before they be caught by a bond which it is impossible to sever. As long as thou hast hands, stretch them towards heaven in prayer, before thy arms fall from their joints and thou desire to raise them, and it is impossible for thee. As long as thou hast fingers, raise them unto God in supplication. For there will come a time when the splendid strength of the joints is weakened. As long as thou hast eyes, fill them with tears during prayer, weeping for thy sins (1), before the moment when sand will cover thy clothes and the eyes will become feeble, staring senseless in one direction, without thy knowing it. As long as the heart, the fountain of the deliberations, is ordered by a distinguishing power, bethink of those things which are helpful to thy life, before the soul be hastened on to departure from it and become a house devoid of its inhabitants.

O thou who art wise, let no deliberation flatter thee with the hope of a long life. As a flower withers by the blowing of the sirocco, so against thee will blow one of the elements which are within thee and without thy expecting it, suddenly thy knees will relax. And while thou thinkest that it is nothing and that thou art curing the illness, suddenly the cunning one will approach, who laughs at the wise!

O, for the wretchedness of our nature! How are we entangled in its love, though God does not desire to leave us in this state. Set thy heart to prepare for a departure, O man. As a sage thou must expect departure every hour, thinking every day: the messenger of him that comes after me has reached the gate; why should I remain sitting? It is a departure for ever, I cannot return hither. Go asleep with these thoughts every night; and meditate upon this deliberation every day. And when the time of departure comes, go joyfully to meet it saying: Come in peace. I knew that thou wouldst come and I have not neglected anything that could serve me on the way."


1. 'Sin' means to miss the mark, (not at all meaning a heinous act). The Greek word 'hamartano' really means 'to miss the mark' but it is translated as sin. Literally, the word was used in archery, when the target was missed. It would seem clear, therefore, that we cannot understand the idea of sin in the right way unless we gain some idea of what it is we have to aim at. To miss the mark is 'sin'; but what is the mark? The existence of a mark evidently causes sin, because if there were no mark to aim at, there would be nothing to miss and therefore no sin. In fact, St. Paul exclaims that had there been no commandment he would never have sinned. The commandments caused him to sin - a startling idea - just as in the mythos of Adam and Eve the prohibition to eat allegorically the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge caused sin and the fall of man. The mark was somehow missed... Whatever his meaning is in this, we can at any rate understand that St. Paul took the law - the commandments - as the 'mark' and the keeping of them as the 'aim'. (from The Mark by Maurice Nicoll)

Bedtime Prayer from the Mystic Treatises by Saint Isaac of Nineveh