Awake or asleep

Daily Reading for July 10

The ancient monastic practice of rising sometime between midnight and two in the morning to pray sanctifies the night hours. To me the idea of nuns and monks rising from their beds in the middle of the night and shuffling down a darkened hall in pairs by candlelight, half asleep, to sing and pray in a cold chapel is both appalling and comforting.

The practice appalls me because I cannot imagine myself rising voluntarily in the night. . . . As a mother, I have no memory at all of my second child’s first year when he could not sleep through the night while the oldest, an active toddler, stayed awake by day. . . . Beyond these memories of sleep deprivation, however, the image of nuns and monks singing in the cold chapel in the middle of the night is comforting. I know a practiced spirit stands as a sentry on the boundary of the soul, watching the horizon for danger or delight. . . .

A friend of mine who is a hermit calls Vigils “the prayer office for pious insomniacs.” On a more serious note, though, many religious people are wakened by the Spirit in the middle of the night in order to pray for someone in need. It is a common experience among Christians to discover that at the exact hour when someone needing to be commended to God was ministered to, a friend was raised from sleep on the other side of the globe. A nun once told me about the uncanny intuitiveness of people in parts of Africa, where she served for many years. “People knew of things even before the drumming began,” she said. “This knowing is not such a miracle. It is simply that here in the west, we have forgotten how to be connected.”. . .

So I commend myself to God in prayer before I sleep. Something of our soul will remained linked to that warm darkness beyond its boundary, even in sleep. This dark love, more intimate than a mother’s womb, nourishes, encourages, and guides us, enveloping us in its loving, wordless darkness. When we pay attention, and respond with wordless, loving prayer in the darkness of our souls, we know we are connected to divine life. When we commend our souls to God at night, we take this connection for granted. Awake or asleep, we live in the Lord.

From Praying the Hours by Suzanne Guthrie (Cowley Publications, 2000).

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