Today’s reflection is the third in a series by Debra Donnelly-Barton. Debra has presented several retreats at our Center and we look forward to hosting her again in the future. Let’s take a few quiet moments to read this reflection about nighttime vigils. What can we learn from a late-night session listening to God’s voice?
A Liturgy of the Living Earth, Praying the hours in tune with nature
Summer Meditations, 2020
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
For a few days (and nights!) I want to consider the power and disturbance of the prayer hour known as Vigils. Waking at night to focus on the divine precedes the monastic tradition but monks have given night prayer a form. Some pray Vigils at midnight, others at 3 am (also known as lauds-the third hour). Watching in the night is traditionally a liturgy of singing and psalms and readings followed by lectio divina or silent prayer. The dark night engenders an expectation of the dawning day. Vigil prayer is attentive to what is present as it leans into what is coming.
Many of us have found ourselves awake at night, unable to sleep, and perhaps turning to prayer to help us move back into slumber. Vigil prayer invites wakefulness within the rhythm of the night while it breaks into our sleeping. When we consent to this interruption, we disentangle our daytime inhibitions and may discover a new depth of prayer.
The earth, too, has its office of Vigils. In deep night a hushed silence greets our initial listening. But if we wake and move out into the night we will join the prayer already begun by the night watchers, like crickets and tree frogs and owls. What is amazing about stepping away from the usual routine is that it quickens our senses.
Night is not benign. It is active. And the activity may be foreign to our seeing and our hearing. Vigils is not about peaceful prayer. It is about being alert to the new and maybe even troubling world of nocturnal life.
What we pray in the night, how we watch for the dawn, creates a posture of attentiveness and expectation.
Set your alarm for midnight or 1 am, perhaps stay awake until that hour. Then go out into the night and listen to what is speaking in the air and the land. Or turn off the lights in your house and sit quietly in the dark listening to the night sounds of your home.
What do you hear?