This weekend, I attended a silent retreat. The timing of the retreat on Saturday made it a good time to reflect on preparations for Advent (and plenty of other things — the retreat ran from 9am-6pm, and my friends offline will know it was only by the grace of God that I kept my motormouth from running all that time). The Advent season is similar to Lent, a time of reflection, purification, and anticipation before a great feast. So, many Catholics take on Advent fasts the same way they do at Lent.
Ideally, in Lent, you give something up and take something on. Maybe you give the money you would have spent on coffee to the poor, maybe the time you would have spent on TvTropes is where you make space for a daily Rosary. Since I’ve just entered the Church, I’m hesitant to label any spiritual practice I’m taking on as special for Advent. But, during the retreat, I did discern a sacrifice that it might be salutary to make.
I’m going to go to bed by 1am on average during Advent.
I graduated college only a year and a half ago, and my body happily accepted more sleep when I became an adult with regular hours. (Believe me, you don’t want to know how much I slept in college). But it’s still a good deal later than most people seem to stay up.
The thing I really like about late hours is the flexibility of them. As long as I’m awake and alert feeling, there’s always more time to get things done. It doesn’t necessarily take a toll on my life (thankfully, I seem to need less sleep than average), but it’s not great having that time in the open-ended evening instead of the morning.
Jenifer Fulwiler has written about how praying the Liturgy of the Hours made her freer by letting her work within limits. The prayers introduced hard stops to her schedule, non-negotiable limits that made her think more about which and how many projects to take on. She was recently struck by the way that monastic communities live out this freedom-through-limits idea.
And since I’ve been thinking about this, the Gospel reading at Mass today caught my ear. Jesus’s encounter with the centurion in Matthew 8:5-11 is the source of a revision in the missal (for non-Catholics, a pre-Eucharist prayer was changed from “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” to “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”). But I’m more interested in the part that comes right after:
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
I like whatever superpowers accrue to me (I read a lot faster than average), but enjoying a strength is different than denying a limit. So I’d rather shift my waking time to the morning, when I’m much more aware of my constraints than leave it flapping around in the evening, when I don’t feel accountable to anyone or anything. (Ok, technically I’m still at the “I want to want this” stage, but I’m working on it).
The upshot of all of this is that the following scene took place in my living room last night.
(glances at clock, notices it is 12:57) ”Shoot!” (hastily closes laptop) ”I’m going to go brush my teeth really really fast!”
“Perverse incentives, much?”
“PERVERSE INCENTIIIIVES!” (while taking the stairs two at a time)
Ora pro me.
P.S. The way I’m keeping track of all this is a website called Beeminder, that makes it easy to track progress toward a goal. (This is how I keep track of the slowly increasing number of push-ups I do per day, for example). In this case, since Beeminder lets you enter times to track, I’m just putting in the last time I see on my phone before I lie down with my eyes closed and the lights off. (Since 1am is worse than 12:59am, I just enter post 1am times as 13:03 or whatever). And then Beeminder makes a pretty graph.
Oh, and I get a free pass on the night of the Hobbit midnight premiere. Just cause.