Tonight we conclude our study of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. Please read Chapter 12 “Shield the Joyous: Gratitude and Indifference and Chapter 13 “All For You Love’s Sake: Dawn.”
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
Rev. Warren begins her last chapter with the observation that the Christian life is more like a poem than an encyclopedia. She quotes the Baptist-turned-Orthodox poet Scott Cairns that “a good poem insists that a reader learn to honor ambiguity . . . [and that a poem] isn’t ever done saying what it has to say.’” The ambiguity, perplexity, and uncertainty of poetry is like that of the Christian life.
As Rev. Warren writes: “to be a Christian is to honor ambiguity. It requires a willingness to endure mystery and to admit that there are limits to human knowledge.” p.164. But, like a love poem, the Christian life is grounded in the inexpressible and unchanging reality of the love of God. In those dark times, this love may seem hidden or baffling, but yet it is always there creating, sustaining, and redeeming all things.
John writes in his prologue that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5. This Prayer walks us through a long dark night. But this last phrase speaks of the dawn. It reminds us that in all things, the love of God will overcome all things. It is the light, the love, and the life of God that is constant, not the darkness. It is through this illuminating love, that all things must be seen and processed.
Remember the end of the story of Revelation. There is the new heaven, the new earth, and the new Jerusalem. But there is no longer any sun, or moon, or stars because the “glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb, and by its light shall the nations walk.” Rev. 21:23. As we have discussed, darkness is not explained, but it is defeated. Night is not a riddle to be solved, but a mystery to be endured until it too is overcome by the light. In those dark times, we must always remember the end. It might be Good Friday, but Easter is coming.
Questions and Practices:
Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 13 are:
l. The author says that the Christian faith is true, but in a way that is more like a poem than an encyclopedia article in that there is ambiguity and perplexity built into our experience of faith. Do you read the Scriptures and see your life in Christ in this way? How does seeing the truth of Christianity in this way change things for you?
2. The author says that the love of God is like the speed of light. It’s the one constant thing that makes everything else rearrange, and therefore it’s the only thing that’s worth staking a life on. What does it look like to stake your life on the love of God? Who do you know who has done this? What is distinctive about their life?
3. The author notes how the love of God can seem unreal either because we have been told that we are unlovable, or because it seems irrelevant to our daily lives. She discusses how prayer helps us place “the whole weight” of our life on God’s love. What can you do this week (this month? This year?) to place more trust in the love of God?
4. The author says that all of our questions about God that emerge from a world of suffering and vulnerability come down to two questions: What are you like? And can you be trusted? How do the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus help us to answer these questions about God? What helps you keep these truths foremost in your mind and heart when you are suffering, or just on an ordinary day?
5. Throughout the book, the author has talked about how practices hold together the reality of human vulnerability and the trustworthiness of God in a dynamic tension. Name Christian practices that you partake in and discuss how they hold these two realities in your own life.
1. The author describes how her daughter was “praying in pencil and crayon.” Take a quiet moment of prayer and draw or paint something for which you are hoping or longing. Present that drawing before God as a way to reach for hope and then, as much as you are able, release it to God and pray over it a prayer of indifference: “Let it be to me according to your word.”
2. Go on a “gratitude” walk. Walk or hike and spend the time intentionally noticing beauty, gifts, and any goodness in your life and thank God for it.
3. Practice celebration in a concrete way. Pick a liturgical feast day or milestone in your own or someone else’s life (or just celebrate getting home from work on an average Wednesday!). Have a good meal, play your favorite music, and gather friends or family (this could be one other person or a group). Write a liturgy of celebration, where you pray a psalm (a few suggestions: Ps 112, Ps 136, Ps 145) and thank God for his gifts.
4. The author writes that we come to believe more in the love of God for us by placing the weight of our life and decisions on God’s love. Think of one thing you would do if you absolutely believed God loved you, deeply and entirely. Take one small step of trust toward that thing this week. Read Romans 8 several times and meditate on one word or phrase from the chapter. Ask God what he would like you to do in response to that word or phrase. (If you are familiar with lectio divina, practice lectio divina with Romans 8). Journal about that time of meditation.
5. Go to church and, if you are a baptized Christian, take part in the Eucharist or Communion. Or, alternatively, witness a baptism (or be baptized yourself if you have not been). Take special notice of how death and love, darkness and light, are spoken of and dealt with in these sacraments.
Weeping may spend the night, *Psalm 30:6, 12-13
but joy comes in the morning.
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.