Here we are looking at the second study covering midnight until dawn, ‘The Night Watch’ , also known as the Night Office and historically the Office of Vigils and therein sits the theme of this study. Vigil ~ nocturnal devotions/prayers, a watch kept during normal sleeping hours or the act/ period of observing; surveillance. [Merriam~Webster] This is going to be an interesting study as I have spent many nights awake when I should have been sleeping and for myriad reasons. Some happy, some sad and some just unfortunate. Those hours during the night can be full of peace and tranqulity but also full of fear and trepidation depending on how your mind and life are shaping up at that particular time. It’s certainly a very good way to actually meet yourself face to face which isn’t always easy. More importantly it’s also a beautiful way to meet with God……
What experience do you have of ‘keeping vigil’?
This really is a huge question to answer. Over the years I have kept many different sorts of vigils and for the purprose of this study I will focus mostly on the night ones. There are times during personal illness that I have been up watching TV or reading late into the night in an effort to try and get some respite from whatever ailed me and drop off to sleep. Many, many nights during my six pregnancies have found me wandering the house, while all around me sleep, either in search of food ;-), indigestion rememdies or just through general discomfort and insomnia. The last ten weeks of my pregnancy with Ethan found me waking every night without fail at 3am or earlier. I’d go and make tea and toast and watch the sun come up [it was summertime so sunrise was early] feeling him kicking inside me ~ they were beautiful times. Once he’d been born I’d sit feeding him during the night and, in the sure and certain knowledge that he was my last baby, I’d relish those precious times in the quiet gloom, we’d cuddle up together keeping vigil, his little fluffy head nestled under my chin watching the dawn creep through the curtains. I actually missed those times when he finally slept through the night.
More recently there have been vigils with Jim when he was close to the end when I would go into the hospice late at night and just sit with him. It was a very different experience to the daytime visits, alot harder to be honest, and alot more scary and emotional ~ I found those very difficult. During my time nursing I spent many hours at the bedside of people in the last stages of their lives both at night and during the day. It’s a huge privilege to be able to do that for someone but easier [for want of a better word] when it’s not a family member.
I’ve obviously spent time nursing my own children at night when they’ve been poorly or had a bad dream. I usually snuggle up in bed with them just cuddling or maybe quietly reading stories depending on the reason for the wakefulness.
I am a closet meteorite watcher so on occasion I’ve set my alarm for ridiculous times of the night so I can get up [in the hope of a cloud free sky] and watch the most amazing natural fireworks shoot across the heavens…some of these ‘showers’ have been breathtaking. I kept Mike and Millie up late one night and we laid on our backs in the garden on sleeping bags watching these shooting stars zoom across the sky. That memory is a keeper for sure.
Finally I suppose there should be room for some romantic vigils. When Si and I first met we’d sit up late into the night talking and holding hands or just sitting quietly listening to music. Even now we occasionally find ourselves talking and talking once we’ve gone to bed. It’s strange how you can be with someone all day and not find much to say and then as soon as you’re lying quietly in bed you find yourselves putting the world to rights. It’s actually a lovely way to end the day.
Does the ‘night’ hold any particular significance for you?
I suppose the night now means ‘me’ time. A time when I can pray, read, think, be alone ~ all precious things in a busy house where silence and solitude are non~existent during the day. Historically I’ve only been up at night when I’ve been ill and then it’s just pretty miserable really but in recent years [probably since Ethan’s birth] the night has taken on a different meaning. If I find that I can’t sleep because I’m worried or just stressed then I have no problem in just abandoning my bed and heading for the lounge. Most of my blog is written late at night too. As children I think we’re preconditioned to stay in bed and try to sleep at all costs but suddenly as an adult you realise that there’s no one telling you to go back to bed and if you want to spend the whole night on the sofa eating toast and drinking tea then you can ~ it’s great 🙂
Which parts of this chapter do you find most striking? Can you relate to Macrina Wiederkehr’s experience?
“Night vigil is a time for deep listening. My prayer travels deep into my soul space, into the essence of my being. I go “down under” where the eternal One waits.” [p29]
The above is just so true as, in my experience, anything that takes place during the night hours [darkness] is often greatly enhanced and far more tangible; that also goes for prayer and time spent with God. The above passage uses the word ‘deep’ which is exactly how I’d describe these nightime liasons with my Lord. Deep, meaningful experiences….I search alot deeper during these hours and am touched alot deeper emotionally as a result.
“Thus upon leaving the retreat and returning home, the gift I carried with me was the memory of the faithfulness of these monks rising to pray in the middle of the night” [p30]
I’ve always found that when I come home from a retreat of any sort I always bring something of that experience home with me. Most often times it’s to do with praying the Offices. I really do miss that rhythm and cycle at home. I obviously pray some Offices here [on a good day ;-)] but it’s never as easy as it is on retreat where there are far fewer distractions and demands on my time. I always come home with a really large packet of ‘good intentions’ and a side order of ‘inspiration’ to continue on at home ~ slightly unrealistic probably with a young child ~ but although I could never keep up that practice as perfectly here it always reinforces just how much I love praying the Offices alongside my brothers and sisters at Turvey no matter how geographically removed we may be.
“Perhaps some night when you get up to pray, something will turn over in someone’s heart and find its voice all because of your small prayer. Never underestimate what little acts of love can accomplish.” [p32]
I just really liked the above passage ~ very thought provoking.
“Most of us do not like to wait. There is anxiety in waiting…..in a supermarket line, in the doctor’s office, at the stoplight….. Waiting is not high on our list of priorities” [p34]
The above was true for me in every sense until I started my degree at Oxford Brookes. Each day I had a motorway drive of at least 35 minutes [each way], usually longer. I learnt to use that time to think, revise, study [in my head obviously], plan essays etc. etc. It became very valuable and I missed it when it stopped. Since then I have become a Christian but I still use all of those unexpected periods of waiting or inactivity for prayer, to think about God, to plan ahead. I no longer get frustrated at having to wait or being delayed, I now view these opportunites as an unexpected gift that I can use for private reflection in what would probaly have been an otherwise really busy day.
My prayer of choice for the week ahead ~ it reflects my feelings on the passage taken from p29.
O Love Divine and Mysterious…..
Take me down deep to the holy darkness of Love’s room. Let me become one with the One I love. Draw me into the depths. Night prayer is deep prayer. Let me go deep. Teach me the art of waiting with patience that I may grow strong, loving , and wise.
Let me borrow your eyes O Beloved. Then I shall see in the dark. [p38]