Self-ordained “Nap Bishop” Tricia Hersey doesn’t look to anyone for permission to rest. “I am clearly stating that to center rest, naps, sleep, slowing down, and leisure in a capitalist, white supremacist, ableist, patriarchal world is to live as an outlier,” she writes in her 2022 book Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto.
Hersey’s literary debut was inspired by her own journey after a deeply exhausting season of her life. While at Emory University in pursuit of her Master of Divinity degree, Hersey found herself beyond the point of burnout. Raising her son and working while also being a full-time student pushed her to make some radical changes. “I just had to have a faith walk,” she said on the For the Wild podcast, referring to her decision to commit to rest.
“I had to leap without a net […] Similar to my grandmother who left the deep part of Mississippi to go to Chicago during the Great Migration running from racial terror there […] this idea of hoping for the future, of leaping, of imagining, of trying to make space to just be. To allow yourself to tap in, to slow down […] it’s a political refusal.”
In 2016, Hersey founded The Nap Ministry, which was inspired by an artistic performance called Transfiguration in which she “explored reparations, resistance, Black Liberation Theology, and the spiritual practice of rest, and how it can be used as a direct line to our Ancestors,” according to the Nap Ministry website.
“The Ministry started while I was daydreaming, napping and slowing down because my body and my Ancestors told me so,” she writes. “The idea of living in a world but not being part of it is a long-held tradition taught to me by my Ancestors.”
In 2017, Hersey started leading Collective Napping Experiences in Atlanta, Georgia. In these sessions, which she would later refer to as “community rest activations,” people would come together to take collective naps and process the experience of resting in community.
Hersey continued to expand this work in other cities, including Chicago, and developed a social media presence (@thenapministry) doing what she called “deprogramming” for supporters who felt they’d been brainwashed by hustle and grind culture. This growing social media following catapulted Hersey into a level of visibility that supported the launch of her first book.
The choice to structure the book as a manifesto allows Hersey to cement and deepen the thoughts and values she’s been developing through The Nap Ministry for years. Readers who are also engaged with her social media will see familiar phrases peppered throughout the book, supplemented with anecdotes from Hersey’s life and deeper dives into her wisdom.
At the beginning of Rest Is Resistance, Hersey writes, with both humor and seriousness, “I hope you are reading this while laying down!” The book shares this urgency, with each of its four parts labeled “REST!” “DREAM!” “RESIST!” and “IMAGINE!” Each section of the book focuses on one of four core tenets: First, that rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. Second, that our bodies are a site of liberation. Third, naps provide a portal to imagine, invent, and heal. And fourth, that our DreamSpace (her coinage) has been stolen and we want it back. We will reclaim it, she preaches, via rest.
The prose of Rest is Resistance ebbs and flows with the melodic power of a pastor and poet—two identities with which Hersey is deeply familiar. Growing up the daughter of Willie Hersey, an assistant pastor of Robbins Church of God in Christ in south-suburban Robbins, Illinois, she knows intimately the power of spiritual Black spaces. In the book, Hersey describes the charismatic and mystical experiences she had in the Black church as an opportunity “to test out our freedom in a sacred space created for just us.”
As an adult in the late nineties, Hersey taught poetry in Chicago Public Schools and after-school programs, and wrote and performed poetry in the city. Today, her writing is an homage to and an embodiment of the richness of her experiences in the religious and creative communities that are a hallmark of the Black South Side.
Rest was something that was not taught to Hersey explicitly, but it was consistently modeled in her family. She writes about being raised by Black folks who were fleeing the Jim Crow South seeking spaces of safety, joy, and freedom. Influenced by somatics, womanism, womanist theology, Black Liberation Theology, Afrofuturism, and her ancestors, Hersey’s book invites readers into what she calls “a pilgrimage infused with softness, intentionality, and community care.”
Hersey’s book does not ignore the experiences we all face under capitalism. She mentions early on that the need for space to connect with our highest self is often deprioritised when we fear our basic needs will not be met unless we work like machines. She further emphasizes that “[this] rigid binary, combined with the violent reality of poverty, keeps us in a place of sleep deprivation and constant hustling to survive.” It’s the reality of this cycle that makes choosing rest an extreme form of resistance and an act of faith.
When faced with hopelessness, she invites readers to “take to our beds and dream ways to find motivation again.”
An evocative and unexpected element of Hersey’s book centers around the grief that rest allows for. She names early on how slowing down makes room for “grieving the reality of being manipulated to believe we are not enough, divine or valuable outside of our accomplishments and bank account.”
In this way, the book allows for moments to lean into both grieving and imagination. Hersey invites readers to step into daydreams or “downloads” she’s had related to our collective liberation. She offers ways to create conditions for rest in our lives, including powerful imperatives such as, “Begin to heal the individual trauma you have experienced that makes it difficult for you to say no and maintain healthy boundaries.” She offers questions for journaling and meditations for readers to use while increasing the number of naps and the amount of quiet time in their lives.
At the heart of the book is a tenderness and fierce love that radiates from each sentence. Hersey speaks directly to the reader with a benevolence and conviction that calls on her roots in the Black church. The Nap Bishop’s message is both revolutionary and simple. Rest saved her life, and she wants it to save yours, too.
Tricia Hersey, Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto. $27. Little Brown Spark, 2022. 212 pages.
Jasmine Barnes is a writer and space maker based in Woodlawn with a deep commitment to relational healing and creative self expression. She last wrote about gardeners on the South Side.