I’m going to be honest with you.
I’m quite new to liturgical readings and practices. I didn’t grow up in a tradition (hello Baptist Deep South!) that followed a liturgical calendar. The word “Advent” was not part of my Christmas vocabulary, and if you had used the word “Compline”, I might have thought you were awkwardly trying to pay me a compliment. I am learning about liturgical practices only now, as an adult.
I am also new to the Book of Common Prayer. I could not pass a quiz about it, and I hardly know what to do with it. But I am delving in, as well as reading a book called Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren, to be released in January 2021.* I was drawn to the book’s description and hooked by this question: “How can we trust God in the dark?” I knew I wanted to read more, and as it turns out, the book is framed around a nighttime prayer of Compline.
I have read others’ testimonies of how the prayers of the saints gave them the language of prayer when they needed it in their own lives. Perhaps that is another reason I was drawn to this book. What I have been lacking in my own faith life just might be the voices and steady faith and prayers of past believers who clung tightly to these words and practices.
I used to reason that I would not like the repetition of such prayers, and thought I would find it dull and devoid of the spirit and life. Those were thoughts, however, I had when I was much younger, before I had any inkling I would be fumbling through my own paths of darkness and wilderness and not able to pray. For those who grew up in a liturgical tradition, the prayers may have helped you find the way when it could not be found. Perhaps it was a respite to draw upon the familiarity of the offices, and give you the words you needed.
For someone like me, who does not have the background and experience of these prayers, and though the comfort of familiarity does not exist, perhaps it is a means by which I may learn to pray again. These prayers offered by others give me a hope of authenticity that a Person is there, listening, behind my present veil of darkness. Nothing is familiar in the dark; a familiar landscape can look like an alien planet at midnight. We can’t see who is there and who isn’t, only shapes and shadows and mysteries, so I find myself siphoning strength from a congregation of believers who came before me as I stumble along.
“When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline in grief cannot be mere optimism…We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility,” Warren writes. These words resonate with me. Maybe this is what I have been missing. Not that having such practices or tradition would prevent any dark nights of the soul—no, not at all—but that now it may help bring me back, lighting my footpath in the dark. Like Advent candles lit week by week, maybe this is the path of light pointing toward hope during this walk in the wilderness.
*I paid for and pre-ordered the book, requested to join the launch team, and was provided with an advance digital copy to read. This post is not being solicited by the launch team or book publishers, and I am writing my own thoughts and opinions out of my own personal experience.
Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.