When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber, Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer; Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading, But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there. (Harriet Beecher Stowe 1855)
When I was a child, I heard this bedtime poem from my best girlfriend: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray he Lord my soul to take.” All I got from this “prayer” at the time was the idea that I might die if I went to sleep! And that could be why I have always found Stowe’s comforting verse about slumber so reassuring.
I have at times wondered, though, why Stowe used the singular “eye” instead of eyes. But now, after some thought and continued study, I think she might have drawn her description of the soul’s “eye” from something that Jesus referred to. Before warning against trying to serve “two masters,” he said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (KJ Matt. 6:22). More recent translations of this verse replace single with words like sound or clear. But the Greek word that the KJV translated as single does contain a clear sense of union, a folding together. So, in a sense, when we slumber, our soul is single, a “closing eye,” folding back into the light of Christ.
Many a night, when I’m tired and “subdued by toil,” I consciously fold myself into the Lord’s reassuring presence. He sustains and protects our soul, our conscious individuality, even when we’re sleeping. So, whether we wake up here in our bedroom or in the next room of continuing life, we can rest comfortably saying: “Oh, Lord, ‘keep’ my soul, nurture and shelter it until I’m once again awake, once again finding you with me.”