Sabbath Science

ImageMorgan Wills writes…

Sometimes science and wisdom converge!  A  recent study published online by the journal Academic Medicine confirmed what many of you may have suspected all along: “a short, midday nap can improve alertness and cognitive functioning.”

Tired first-year resident physicians everywhere may soon be clamoring to implement the protocol of this study, where a placebo-controlled sample of their peers were instructed to take a 20 minute nap in a reclining chair after lunch—and found to have better reasoning and fewer attention failures through the rest of the day.

But the rest of us should probably take note as well.  There are well-known physiologic factors which justify some modified version of the well-established practice of “siesta” that is practiced throughout many Latin cultures.  But until I met an accomplished physician who routinely wove a mini-nap after lunch into his work schedule, I’d never dreamed that such a practice might be feasible for a practicing clinician. 

Ironically, this particular doctor learned the practice on a birding trip to the Arctic Circle with one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th c., the late Anglican leader John R. W. Stott.  After setting up camp together, the esteemed teacher curled up unannounced on the tundra and quickly fell asleep for 20 minutes!  When his physician colleague learned that the incredibly busy and productive theologian had practiced the rhythm of a daily “kip” for decades, he realized that perhaps even a practitioner in the 24/7 world of modern medicine could benefit from acknowledging his limits in such a humble, regular way.  For him it was a daily extension of the biblical concept of Sabbath—regular patterns of rest which acknowledge the simple truth that we are creatures, not mini-Gods.

So, have we set up a cot in the back room at Siloam yet?  Let’s just say that we have a committee working on a proposal!  In the meantime, we can all stand to ponder the wisdom of Sabbath.  As Wendell Berry puts it in his poem by the same name: “The mind that comes to rest is tended / in ways it cannot intend.”