The Daily Office used to be a big part of my life at one time. Then I drifted away from it, but it still holds an appeal. When I am on retreat, the joy of doing it comes back, but once I come home and get into the routine, that is one of the things that vanishes most easily. That, and regular physical exercise!
A few years ago, I drew up a Rule of Life for myself, based loosely on the Benedictine Rule of Life. I had recently discovered Sr. Joan Chittister, and often found myself lost in her books, especially Monastery of the Heart. I confess that there have been times when I envied those people who lived in a cloister. I found myself wanting to be with them, these women who removed themselves from the world. Books such as Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk and Judith Valente’s Atchison Blue only served to reinforce the idea that it would be possible to have a closer walk with God if only I could be removed from the world. If only I could be removed from my obligations. If only . . . if only . . . if only.
But I cannot be removed from any of these things. I am very much in the world, even if I sometimes feel that I am not of the world – and, frankly, I am often grateful that I am not of the world. I love my obligations – my husband, my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I love my job, even if it is radically different these days from what it was even a month ago. Even though I am an introvert, gaining energy from solitude, I still need other people. I was not made to live in a cloister or to be a hermit. But I was made to praise God. I was made to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
This evening, I thought to share with you a compline, one which I wrote but have never shared with anyone. Just in case, you don’t know what compline is, here is a definition: a service of evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night. I followed the basic format of compline as used in the Roman Catholic and Anglican/Episcopalian churches.
May it bring you evening blessings. Let us pray.
May the Lord almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.
Let us silently confess our sins to God.
May almighty God forgive us all our sins.
Psalm 51 – The Message
Generous in love – God, give grace! Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down.
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God; I’ll let loose with your praise.
Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
Make Zion the place you delight in, repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.
Then you’ll get real worship from us, acts of worship small and large,
Including all the bulls they can heave onto your altar!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Let us pray. Loving God, as we come to the end of another day, may I remember all of the God-moments I experienced this day.
May I remember the smiles on the faces of the people I met.
May I remember that perfect cup of coffee.
May I remember the few moments spent knitting, making a garment that will warm someone this winter.
May I remember the time I sat in your presence just being with you.
I am sorry, Lord, for the times I have missed seeing you.
The times I have been too busy to stop for just a minute to hear the birds singing. The times I rushed from one place to the next without pausing to breathe deeply of the fresh air.
The times I didn’t listen to someone who was trying to talk to me, but cut them off because I had something else to do.
The times I didn’t sit with you, reasoning that I would do it later.
Lord, I thank you for this day. I thank you that I have arrived at its end and that I will be able to rest so I can recharge myself for tomorrow. Be with those I love and especially with those I don’t like very much. Grant each one of them a good night’s sleep. May we wake tomorrow secure in the knowledge that you are with us, walking with us on the journey. Amen.
Katherine Burgess was one of the contributors to A Child Laughs: Prayers of Justice and Hope. She also co-wrote a book of daily prayers with Neal Mathers. She is a second-career minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and serves two congregations in Québec. At the present, she is leading worship from her home, and is still a little uncertain about this.
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