I knew what to expect from Tish Harrison Warren on her second book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. Her first book, Liturgy of the Ordinary is a beautifully written guide book and personal essay on how to practice a holy life in our ordinary days.
Prayer in the Night is another beautifully written book for our days, but this time she writes about the hardest ones. Those days or seasons all of us experience, but would never choose. The author writes, “There are particular events that divide our lives into before and after. There are seasons of deep darkness, failure, and loss that indelibly mark us.”
When Darkness Hides Our Joy
If we dare to admit it, all of us are scared of the dark. Not the darkness that comes when the sun sets, though there are plenty of us who are. It’s the darkness of loss, grief and pain, betrayal or affliction. The one that covers us in sorrow and hides our joy. It’s the darkness that doesn’t fade when the morning comes and we wonder when it will end.
Words don’t come easily in the dark, if they come at all. We want to pray but don’t know how. We’re unsure of the words. Warren shares a personal story of how Compline helped her through a scary emergency room visit when she didn’t have the words to pray.
If you’re like me, you didn’t know of Compline. According to Wikipedia, Compline, also known as Night Prayer, is the final church service of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours, which are prayed at fixed prayer times. It comes from the Book of Common Prayer used in the Anglican Communion and other Christian churches.
In the middle of the frenzy in the emergency room, the author writes that she “needed this moment of crisis to find its place in something greater: the prayers of the church, yes, but more, the vast mystery of God, the surety of God’s power, the reassurance of God’s goodness.”
The author and her husband are Anglican priests who serve the church together. I was not familiar with Anglicanism until a couple of years ago, and grow more curious the more I learn. The liturgical practices, high view of scripture, and historical traditions draw me in.
We don’t have to be Anglican to see the beauty of Compline, and pray it ourselves. The author takes the reader through the prayer, gives us historical background, scripture references, and shares more personal stories. She’s honest about her own journey through the dark and sometimes, feeble faith.
But we all know that place. When our faith is shaky and we can’t feel God. When our doubts overshadow what we thought we knew. It’s that exact place when a borrowed prayer can give the words necessary to remind us Who loves us.
Perplexity is built into the Christian faith. It is by nature perplexing. Ours is not primarily a faith of explanation, but of salvation.Tish Harrison Warren
Therefore, to be a Christian is to honor ambiguity. It requires
a willingness to endure mystery and to admit that there are
limits to human knowledge. God has us on a “need to know
basis,” and there is much it seems that we don’t need to know.
And this is faith. We endure the mystery, admit our limited knowledge, and learn to trust God as we know Him better and better. This knowing is an interactive relationship…an ongoing communion with our Creator. As we know Him, we learn to trust Him. We practice our faith when we “preach to ourselves” as John Piper puts it. Compline is a kind of preaching to ourselves.
Warren writes, “We have to learn to trust God in order to receive even good things from him. And learning to receive good things from God is difficult, especially if you’ve been hurt. It’s hard to learn to trust goodness and beauty. It takes practice to face the reality of darkness, but also to ask for—and hope for—light.”
The prayer includes a surprising phrase the author unravels for us and is ever comforting: shield the joyous.
Yes, tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, and pity the afflicted. And shield the joyous, too.
And all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Learn more about the author, order the book, and find links to Compline Services from Books of Common Prayer, visit her website here.