Thursday, December 10, 2009

Praying, Contra Slithers, in the Dark

My first semester's classes officially ended today. Papers turned in; here in a bit I'll start the reading for final exams next week (Prayers are coveted for this last hurdle), but since time to breathe can now be appreciated for the luxury it is--at least for an evening--I thought I'd attend the little compline service SVS has during weeknights of fasting seasons (Compline, by the way, is apparently not included in blogger's dictionary. Neither, apparently, is the possessive word, "blogger's." Or, rather, it is, but only when quotes are around it. Sigh.)

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.

Rich Mullins...

"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."

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.

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.


Prisca: said...

I can definitely see where Audra is coming from...


What a huge challenge we have set ourselves up for!

Unknown said...

My family and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend one last weekend before our move to Georgia at Holy Archangels a couple of weeks ago and, of course, we made it to compline. ;) I've always thought Vespers and Compline are the two most beautiful, moving services of the Church -- and the beautiful, moving environment at Holy Archangels brings that to the fore even more. I'll miss the Monastery and the time we've spent with the wonderful men there.

Fr. David said...


Indeed. I can't think of anything harder than the life of a matushka w/kids, even the life of a priest w/kids. Hence the advice of dang near everyone I've talked to whose gone through seminary while married: Make sure you take care of your wife first. Pray for us that such would be the case. I notice your blog is nursing-related. Are you from around here, or in another seminary, or what?

Fr. David said...

PS: Feel free to email from my profile if you want to respond privately (if at all).

Juliana said...

All true--it is tough to find balance in the frenetic world we live in.

It's interesting you quote Rich Mullins; I've often thought him a man who knew how to live quietly amidst hectic modern life and made radical decisions to keep his life quiet. I wonder sometimes whether God took him home early in order that he might be spared the cacophany of noise that has only spread in the last 10 years.

Steve Robinson said...

Beautiful post, David. Indeed if you lose your wife, you lose your ministry, but more importantly you jeapordize your salvation and that of your family. (Did that as a protestant minister). Don't permit satan to slither between the one thing needful and the many things important.

Convenor said...

It would be very kind if you could let your readers know about the December issue of our twice-yearly journal 'CHRISTVS REGNAT':

You are most welcome to link to/follow/blogroll our blog:

Please pray for me!

God bless you!

St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association (Ireland)

Fr. David said...

Juliana -

Indeed, Rich's embrace of so many things Evangelicalism either fails to practice or outright neglects was one of the main reasons for my searching outside that camp. God has reasons for depriving us of his further wisdom, and that's that...but don't ask me to like it.

s-p -

Thanks. Good reminder. Especially like the phrase "slither between One thing needful and many things important," but, pardon the density...saying don't make ministry an idol to the detriment of the family? ugh...

Convenor -

Well...I *would?* tell them about it, but you've done an excellent job of that yourself with your postbot! Fair play to ya!

Steve Robinson said...

David, The density is important. When I graduated from protestant seminary the keynote speaker said to us: "You CHOSE to marry before you chose ministry. If you wanted to save the world you should have thought of that first. When you married you made your choice of who to save first." (Or something very close to that.) I said Amen with my mind, but ultimately not with my very being 15 years later. Wisdom, let us attend.

Darlene said...

I'm coming in a little late here on the comments. What exactly is compline (the meaning) and when is compline done, which prayers are included? IOW, could someone give me a quick synopsis on compline?

I've been quite interested in the Orthodox rule of prayer and corporate prayer in Orthodoxy. This has been the subject lately at the catechumens' meetings.

Darlene said...

On yeah, what does ora et labora mean? :)

Fr. David said...

A text of small compline can be found HERE.

ora et labora means "pray and work."