Saturday, 27 February 2016

Leaning Into Lent: Day 16—the Key of the Day and the Lock of the Night

It’s George Herbert, Priest and Poet, day and Lenten silent retreat day at StB. Our retreat meditations are based on a quote from one of Herbert’s poems: “Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.”

The Key of the Day

Each day the opening prayer in the contemporary version of the CofE’s Morning Prayer goes like this:
The night has passed,
and the day lies open before us;
let us pray with one heart and mind.
Silence is kept.
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day,
so may the light of your presence, O God,
set our hearts on fire with love for you;
now and for ever.
That’s a good “key of the day” prayer. It causes a day to lie open before us. George Herbert was right.

To begin a day prayerlessly leaves it closed. The day and its possibilities will be limited to my own puny consciousness, will and selfish appetites. Rejoicing will be stifled. The light of God’s presence is dimmed to a mere shadow; something crepuscular and inward looking. Hearts, which might have been on fire with love for Jesus, do not ignite. Love, which properly should be warmly directed to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus in the Power of the Holy Spirit is refracted and reflected by the shards of my own distorted and sinful house of mirrors. The day becomes a maze which I must try and negotiate in my own strength using my own limited through-a-glass-darkly vision. Alone. Same for you.

If I want my day to lie open before me and welcoming; a gift of God in which to rejoice; my heart on fire with love for God, as George Herbert said, prayer is the key.

The Lock of the Night

Why does the night need a lock? Years ago I remember reading about why the time around supper time is often fraught for mothers with children. It’s because it is the primordial time when night starts to loom and there is a visceral dis-ease because we’re all afraid of the dark and it’s coming closer. So the children get skittish and irritating, mothers and fathers get impatient and cranky. The bogey man draws near. Something wicked this way comes. So we want to lock the doors, close the gates, set the watch and keep the enemy out.

How do we protect our souls, safe and sound, from those dark nights?

Compline (derived from the Latin completorium, the completion of the working day), or Night Prayer, is a good, strong, devotional combination lock that addresses that primal fear and leans us in the right direction. “The Lord almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end,” are the very first words. And soon after,
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep. 
From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe
That we no sinful thought may know.
We finish with prayers like this:
Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
In peace we will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
There, locked up safe and sound.