The Nap Bishop Is Spreading the Good Word: Rest

The Nap Ministry is not a religious movement, she said, but a spiritual antidote to the very earthly problems that are plaguing communities: exhaustion, chronic diseases and mental health crises, issues she sees as arising from systems of capitalism and white supremacism.

Indeed, the concept of getting sufficient rest for good health is not new, and it’s well known that Black people are operating under a dangerous sleep deficit in America. In a 2020 survey of behavioral habits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 44 percent of Black adults reported having short sleep duration (defined as less than 7 hours per night) compared with 31 percent of white adults. Lack of rest is correlated with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure — diseases that disproportionately affect Black people.

While Hersey holds degrees in public health and divinity, she is an artist at heart. Her passion for writing and performance blossomed while she was growing up on Chicago’s South Side, and she went on to study theater, writing and puppetry, and taught poetry classes in the city’s public school system. She approaches the notion of collective rest as a form of performance art, incorporating elements of Black liberation theology, Afrofuturism and poetry into her messaging.

“Yes, it’s about literal naps, but it’s also about imagination work, justice work,” she said. “It’s about education: We need to understand what the systems are doing to us, so that we can resist in a way that is fruitful for us.”

Staging collective napping and daydreaming events around the country, Hersey has invited strangers to lie down next to one another on pillows and yoga mats and let their tensions dissipate in what can look like a prolonged savasana — guiding them with warm exhortations about their divine right to rest. The events may be accompanied by a sound bath, a curated playlist or the gentle plucking of a live harpist.

Inevitably someone wakes up crying, explaining how profound it feels to give themselves permission to rest, she said.

Tenisha Carrington, 30, a writer and filmmaker in Atlanta, recalled an atmosphere of deep relaxation and introspection at an event at the art space Atlanta Contemporary last October, with Hersey’s rhythmic affirmations setting the stage. Some people napped, others stretched and some sat still with their thoughts.