I was scheduled to read little compline this past Monday, and the quiet, somber, and quite dark service impressed me, having only been to compline services at night either at Holy Archangels or in conjunction with a service such as Canon of St. Andrew. I came back tonight, as it was the final compline service before Christmas Break.
Praying in the dark is iconic. Rather, praying in the quiet dark is iconic. There's something to be said for the fact that, in most all other confessions of Christianity, when the faithful gather to pray, the lights are on and the volume is up. Or--as was the case in some "punk rock 'praise' services" I had the misfortune to attend (twice and only twice)--if they are dark, they are noisy and violent. Tonight the chanting was purposefully subdued, quieter than usual, movement was almost non-existent. The soft, throbbing candlelight illumined the faces of the saints and their Lord, who looked at us with established souls led by the Guiding Spirit.
Father Andrew Cuneo was the priest presiding over the service tonight. The man seems to walk around with compline in his soul. To watch the man come and pick up a large, lit candle and stand, petitioning, before the new Adam and the new Eve, in the dark, took me aback. When the lights are on, when the volume is up, when the projecter screens are blaring, the illusion of stability, of strength is easier to swallow. When it's dark and quiet, you fight against blindness, you fight against sleep, you fight against cold--in short, you feel your limitations much more acutely when it's dark. Yet this man prayed. The women at the Cross prayed in a moment darker than any other. It would seem that the goal of every Christian is to press on in faithful, continued prayer, especially in the dark of our hearts, when we feel all our passions slithering around and want to recoil, want to jump, want to react somehow to stave off having to feel that slither. Yet the ability to move in calm, sovereign freedom while one's bowels slither and clench in rebellion is the onus of every Christian. I would posit that this responsibility can only be fulfilled as our Lord would have it when it is still, quiet, and dark, for this external setting is the only worthy reflection of the landscape of hearts held in a place of need of warm illumination.
When needing to read, write, clean, pray, etc after the girls have gone to sleep, the slithers come out with suggestions of leisure and comfort. Audra was talking tonight about how in awe she was of women who could work full time, hold down family life, and be involved as matushki in parish life. When she said she didn't think she was that caliber of a lady, I said that one of the things I had to remind myself of regarding our relationship is that I cannot force her to just "tough it out" and push through fatigue; I'm her husband, not her drill instructor. Yet, the thing that we all have to face is the truth that Christ is calling us, in essence, to kick our own ass to some degree. My job, truly, is to kick my own ass the hardest to make it easier on the rest of the family.
"God calls us to 'be strong' and we mistake that for a call to omnipotence. We confuse strength to endure trials with an ability to walk unfrustrated through life. We convince ourselves that if we were strong we would never fail, never tire, never hurt, never need. We being to measure strength in terms of ease of progress, equate power with success, endurability with invincibility and inevitably, when our illusions of omnipotence is shattered, we condemn ourselves for being weak.
"God has called us to be lovers and we frequently think that He meant us to be saviors. So we 'love' as long as we see 'results.' We give of ourselves as long as our investments pay off, but if the ones we love do not respond, we tend to despair and blame ourselves and even resent those we pretend to love. Because we love someone, we want them to be free of addictions, of sin, of self - and that is as it should be. But it might be that our love for them and our desire for their well-being will not make them well. And, if that is the case, their lack of response no more negates the reality of love than their quickness to respond would confirm it."
Thus, when YouTube beckons, when Bejeweled calls, when ora et labora is challenged by our contemporary slithers, when sleep claws at our eyelids, neck and shoulders while dirty dishes yet remain in the sink, when blogging threatens to slide between you and the toddler asking you to color with her for the ninth time that day -- we are engaged in crisis. Often, if denied the slither's offer of indulgence, we may physically react, either through tension and lashing out or through escape and sybaritism.
Yet we fast to push our bodies just past the edge of comfort. We stand at attention to remind ourselves to remain diligent. We pray--in the light, yes, but also in the dark--to remind ourselves that light is now, but it's also not yet, that there is still dark to deal with. Things that slither do so in the dark, and the light on the other side of that likewise dark glass don't help much, it sometimes seems. But that light is what we've got for now, and ignoring the things that go slither in the night in order to gaze, flint-faced, at the light that illumines us with love for Other and others, is the order of the Day.