Comfortably numb

We all know that feeling. When we’ve been resting on our laurels – or our haunches, more likely – for a little too long, and things – feet, other extremities – have ‘fallen asleep. ‘ Gone numb.

That was the image that offered itself to me as we discussed this week’s readings. Numbness.

The weight can be an excess of luxury, of self-satisfaction, of good things, as for David. Perhaps, in his case, complacency would be the word we might use. He has become so used to receiving everything that he desires, to indulging his every desire, that when he desires that which is forbidden him, he does not even notice. He does not even notice that he is committing half of the ten ultimate crimes – covetousness, adultery, theft, falsehood, murder – until someone else nudges him, pricks his conscience back to life; back to wakefulness.

Then he is sorry.

For the crowd which follows Jesus, it is what? Another complacent response to signs and wonders which have become so regular as to be expected and mundane? Or the numbness which results from persistent need: yes, the thousands were fed, but we still look for Moses. He brought us to the manna in the wilderness, and he led us through the wilderness to the promised land. We have eaten of the manna; but we are still lost in a desert of oppression, occupation, and anxiety. You may feed us with your loaves and fishes; but our hunger exceeds your satisfaction and your baskets of breadcrumbs left over.

Excessive weight creates that numb, sleeping, lifeless feeling; excess of indulgence, excess of need, excess of ecstasy or grief. We all know it. We have all known it.

Even, sometimes, the weight of glory is too much for us comfortably to bear.

G.K. Chesterton – always good for an epigram – said that, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.” (

So what does it take to provoke us back into life, into liveliness, into wonder?

Not, says Jesus, a miracle of breadcrumbs, but the miracle of the Bread of Life, the Incarnate One, the breath of God breathing over the world and sharing our air.

“Create in me a clean heart,” prays David, “and renew a right spirit within me.”

Wonder comes from within, not from signs and wonders without.

When a foot falls asleep, the remedy is two-fold: releasing the weight that has pressed it into numbness, and exercising it to restore the bloodflow and feeling.

When a soul falls asleep, a conscience, a sense of lively wonder, then it might be time to examine our lives to find out where the weight is pressing on our spiritual nerves and creating numbness. Finding creative ways to lessen the pressure – whether it is an excess of good things and good work or an avalanche of anxiety  – to relieve the stress is step one of the remedy. Get help if you need to.

Then exercise. Practising prayer, practising wonder. Borrow the mind of a child, which can find fascination in a drop of dew on a blade of grass and the world that is reflected in it. Listen to the stories of other people’s everyday miracles, and listen to the answering nudges in your heart that wonder where God has been at work in your own life.

Eat Bread, not just bread. Slake your thirst with faith. Prepare to revel in the wonder that God has given us as our joyful response to the wonders of the world, the mystery of our faith, the wonderful knowledge that God is with us, has given God’s self to us, in love, delight and wondrous grace.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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