"While no one's personal history of darkness is exactly like anyone else's, beds are something we all have in common. They are where most of us spend the night hours. They are where we sleep and dream. They are also where some of us wake at inconvenient hours to think about things we would rather not think about, which is why our bedside tables are littered with remedies for getting back to sleep. If the book does not work, there is solitaire. If solitaire does not work, there is the white noise machine. If the white noise machine does not work, there is a pill.
"What is it about beds at night? During the daytime a bed seems harmless enough. You can take a nap in one on a Saturday afternoon without waking up wondering how much longer you have to live. You can work a crossword puzzle in one while you are getting over a bad cold without worrying about who will take care of you when you live past all sense and usefulness. But wake up in bed in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep, and you can be in for a real workout.
"When I wake up like that, things go all right for a moment or two. The dream was just a dream. I did not really miss the only flight to France or forget to attend math class all semester. The bed is familiar. The house is quiet. Everything is all right. But then I remember that I am awake when I am supposed to be sleeping and how hard it can be to get back to sleep again, especially when I start thinking about all the things I do not want to think about, which I am beginning to think about right now. That is when I can feel the dark angel come into the room and sit down on my bed. Perhaps this is Nyx, but I do not think so. He or she, I cannot tell, but the presence feels less like the queen of the night than a heavenly chaperone come to sit with me while I visit feelings I would rather not have.
A friend of mine says he turns over and over in bed when he wakes up like this, until he has all the bedclothes wrapped around him like a bandage. One night his wife tried to get some of the covers back, yanking at them and telling him to go back to sleep.
" 'I can't.' he whispered. 'I think it's God that's bothering me.'
" 'Well, God's not bothering me,' she said, 'so get up and pray, but do it somewhere else.'
"That is probably the best idea, but if the prayer is a plea to be returned to unconsciousness, then it is just another evasion. What if I could learn to trust my feelings instead of asking to be delivered from them? What if I could follow one of my great fears all the way to the edge of the abyss, take a breath, and keep going? Isn't there a chance of being surprised by what happens next? Better than that, what if I could learn how to stay in the present instead of letting my anxieties run on fast-forward?
"By day I can outfox questions like these — racing from one appointment to the next, answering e-mails with red exclamation points by them, taking the suddenly sick dog to the vet, rummaging through the freezer for something to thaw for supper. By day, I am a servant of the urgent. Nothing important has a chance with me. I am too consumed with the things that must be done to consider whether or not doing them even matters. But in the middle of the night I do not have so much to do. Once the lights are off and I am lying in my bed, the dark angel knows right where to find me. I am a captive audience.
"Since beds are where so many of us spend the darkest hours of the day, I decided to see what the Bible has to say about them. Aside from the Song of Solomon, where the main purpose of a bed is for making love, beds are where you commune with your own heart (Psalm 4:4), get chastened with pain (Job 33:19), meditate in the night watches (Psalm 63:6), and water your couch with tears (Psalm 6:6). A bed is where you beget children, give birth, pray, dream, weep, languish, and die. According to the Gospel of Luke, you may even get raptured there: 'I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.'
"A bed, in short, is where you face your nearness to or farness from God. Whether you are in pain or not, whether you are an anxious person or not — even, I think, whether you are a religious person or not — a bed is where you come face-to-face with what really matters because it is too dark for most of your usual, shallowing distractions to work. You can turn on the lights if you want, but they are all artificial. The most they can do is postpone your encounter with what really matters. They cannot save you from that reckoning forever."