I’m not sleeping a lot lately. Less than usual in fact. Most of it stemming from the fact that we seem to be headed towards yet another war in another country in which we have no business. During times like these I usually lose sleep anyway, but it has been ramped up a notch by the fact that my oldest son is persistent in his intention to join the Marine Corps after his high school graduation next spring.
While I’ll be very proud if this does indeed become his final decision and, after a discussion lasting until 2:00am recently, respect my son’s desire to fulfill a call and duty for service, I selfishly admit I wish he was instead making plans to enroll in a college next fall and join several from his high school baseball team by playing ball at the next level. One of his best friends and teammates is making plans to do just that and I was talking about this with Matt, that young man’s father, last night via text messaging.
Me: “I hope he (Matt’s son) gets picked up by a college team. He wants it, has the drive and the talent.”
Matt: “He will land somewhere. Hopefully where he wants.”
Me: “I know this: with N in the Marines I won’t sleep at all for the next 4-8 years with the world in its current state.”
Matt: “I’m sure. You won’t sleep, so the rest of us can.”
It hasn’t even come to pass yet and I marvel at all the parents who’ve gone before me who have had to live this reality. I pray I find that strength.
In order to fill those sleepless hours I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is spend time with God. The worst thing I could do is spend those hours idly flipping through the channels or Netflix, and with my tendencies towards watching the news and all its horrors I’d only be adding to my heartburn. Last night I took more productive action. I drove a few blocks to my parish church to pray in the dark. I would have walked the short distance, but a weekend of moving three tons of rock and block in my backyard for a landscaping project has rendered my hamstrings as tight as a drum.
I took with me my copy of a Baronius Press edition of The Roman Breviary in order to pray the Compline, or Night Prayer. While I usually pray the post-Vatican II edition of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) along with millions around the globe, there are times when I appreciate and seek out the more traditional breviary edition from 1961. I was lucky enough to get on their original waiting list and the first printing immediately sold out.
The Compline (pronounced COM-plin, with a short “i”) is the final prayer of the day, usually recited just before one goes to bed. The English word Compline is derived from the Latin completorium, as Compline is the completion of the day. Its use dates back to the sixth century and St. Benedict and its origins go back even further. Compline is a contemplative prayer that emphasizes spiritual peace, something I, and the rest of the world perhaps, sorely require. I also contains a portion devoted to giving one time to examine his or her conscience for the day just completed. It is a valuable time of reflection.
And so it came to pass that I found myself kneeling alone from 11pm until just past midnight, praying the text and singing the hymn out loud in an empty, softly-lit church. Which to be honest is a pretty cool feeling. Normally I would have prayed at home, but on this night I wanted to be in our church.
A few passages/thoughts from last night’s prayer:
“May the all-powerful Lord grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”
Yes! That’s why I am here. Asking for peace and a perfect end to my day.
Antiphon before and after the selected psalms:
“The Angel of the Lord will encamp around those who fear Him, and will deliver them.”
My daughter and I recite the Guardian Angel’s Prayer at her bedside each night…for her. But when’s the last time I thought about my own guardian angel? This passage brings further comfort.
First passage from the Psalter – Psalm 33:
“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my troubles. Draw near to Him and receive His light, and your faces will not be put to shame.”
While I believe that the Lord may be sought anywhere, tonight I’m in His Church, drawn nearer to the light of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
Second passage from the Psalter – Psalm 33:
“The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and His ears are open to his prayers. … When the just cried out, the Lord heard them, and rescued them from all their distress. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and will save those who are lowly in spirit. Many are the troubles of the just, but out of them all the Lord will deliver them.”
I am hardly a just man, though I try my best. And while I’m not brokenhearted I am tonight lowly in spirit. As much as I desire solitude and am driven crazy by the stupidity of man I cannot ignore the existence and the reality of community. The troubles of our human community are my own and I seek deliverance for all, as well as myself.
Third passage from the Psalter – Psalm 60:
“Hear, O God, my plea; listen to my prayer! From the end of the earth I called to You: when my heart was in anguish, You set me high upon a rock. You have guided me, for You have become my hope, a tower of strength against the enemy. I will dwell in Your tent forever, I will be safe under the shelter of Your wings! For You, O God, have heard my prayer.
My hope remains in the Lord. I do not need to rely upon my own strength in times of trial or distress. I know where to find refuge and shelter.
“May no ‘ill dreams,’ no ‘nightly fears and fantasies’ come near us.”
A passage from Jeremiah:
“You are in our midst, O Lord, and Your holy name is invoked over us; do not forsake us, O Lord our God.” (Jer 14:9)
“Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”
These are the last words of Christ from the cross as well as the words of Psalm 31, written 500 years before Jesus and during the time of Jeremiah. Each night I make them my own before shutting off my bedside reading lamp. Each night I surrender, not a surrender of “giving up”, but a surrender to God as a step of faith and as a step towards my eternal home.
The Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32):
“Now, Lord, You may dismiss Your servant in peace, according to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have set before all the nations, As a light of revelation for the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.”
Simeon spent his life in prayer, waiting in anticipation the coming of the Messiah. Present the day Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple for blessing and dedication. This has always been a favorite passage of mine from Sacred Scripture and reminds me that we are all called to be a temple of God to whom Mary brings Jesus. Simeon’s prayer is the prayer of an old man saying that having encountered Jesus at long last he could be released from the earthly and sinful things that hold us back. We are free to see more clearly, and to choose more wisely.
“Protect us, Lord, while we are awake and safeguard us while we sleep, that we may keep watch with Christ and rest in peace.”
It is the custom to begin the “Great Silence” after Compline in many monasteries, during which the whole community, including guests, observes silence throughout the night until the morning service of Lauds, or Morning Prayer, the next day. Outside of the final words of Christ from the earlier response this prayer of petition is my favorite close to the day.
Compline closes with the reciting of one of the antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary, usually the Salve Regina. After finishing this centuries old Marian prayer I made the sign of the cross and arose from my knees to sit back in the side chapel pew. As I sat gazing at the scene from Calvary that is represented behind the altar at our church I realized that it had been too long since I made my last visit outside of my regular Mass attendance. I also realized that while tonight’s visit helped and was a start, I would need to spend a lot more time here in the coming years if I am going to maintain any sense of balance or peace. My frustration and anger with this country’s leaders and those who vocally or silently support it (often because to criticize their party’s president is anathema to them) is boiling over onto Facebook and into conversations. I’ve managed to avoid politics in social media since last November and really don’t want to go there. I would delete my account if I felt it becoming to much to hold inside.
I am not responsible for the complicit hypocrisy and approval of this march to war. I am responsible in the end for my own sins, shortcomings and falls. It is within the communion of saints and the community of Christ, joining them in the prayers loved and sung by millions before me (including Jesus himself when it comes to the psalms) that I find strength for those nights I cannot sleep while others can.
©2013 Jeff A Walker.