Prayer in the Night – Those Who Watch: Gorillas, Ghosts, and Fairies

Tonight we are in Chapter 4 “Those Who Watch: Attention” of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. In reading through this section, we should pray for those who watch for, what I term, gorillas, ghosts, and fairies.

The Prayer:

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

Watching for Gorillas:

When we pray for those of us who watch, we pray that they may see what is actually present. In his book, The Invisible Gorilla, psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons explore how our brains deceive our perception. In their underlying experiment, the writers asked participants to watch a video in which two teams, one in black shirts and one in white shirts, are passing a ball. The participants are told to count how many times the players in white shirts pass the ball. Midway through the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks through the game, stands in the middle, pounds his chest, then exits. More than half the time, the participants miss the gorilla entirely.

This experiment was repeated with radiologists. In this experiment, the radiologists were shown slides of a CT scan of a lung and asked to find cancer nodules. On the scan, the psychologists superimposed a picture of a gorilla. The picture is several magnitudes larger than a cancerous nodule. Eighty-three percent of the radiologist failed to see the picture of the gorilla.

This effect is called “intentional blindness.” In both experiments, the psychologists measured where the eyes of the participants were focused. Most of the participants that failed to see the gorilla had looked directly at it but not processed seeing it. In both experiments, the gorilla was in plain sight, but most people failed to see it because they were not looking for it.

Therefore, when we pray for those who watch in the darkness, we pray that they may see what (and who) is actually present.

Seeing Ghosts:

When we pray for those of us who watch in the darkness, we pray that they may not see what is not there. The flip side of “watching for gorillas” is “seeing ghosts.”  When I first started practicing law, my senior partner used this phrase to describe clients, witnesses, or the other party who remembered things that never happened, saw things that did not exist, and generally made suppositions or made connections that were never there. “Seeing ghosts” is simply seeing the world as it isn’t. This is the realm of fear, anxiety, paranoia, and conspiracy which are difficult to overcome in the darkness. Or as Daniel Boorstin wrote: “We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.”

Therefore, when we pray for those who watch in the darkness, we pray that they do not see what is not actually there.

Perceiving Fairies:

Fairies are not ghosts that simply do not exist, but they also are not gorillas that do exist. Rather fairies are those things that exist only when our entire perception is adjusted. In his book, The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis laments that “We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture.” Our modern rational world has disenchanted the world from itself and us from a greater reality.

Scripture tells us that in God “we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28. He is above all and through all and in all. Eph. 4:6. And it is the Son through whom all things were made. John 1:3. He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. Col. 15:17. We simply do not see the Divine in all things because our worldview precludes this conclusion.

When we watch, we need to open our mind’s eye to the divine reality that is within us and that surrounds us. In his book, Seven Brief Lessons on Magic, Paul Tyson calls this realm “the intangible, qualitative world of meaning, value, and higher purpose.” This is the place of ultimate transcendence which is more real than the reality that we experience in our daily lives.

Therefore, when we pray for those who watch in the darkness, we pray that they see beyond a mere materialist and rational world with the bodily eye, into the world of fairies where the divine transcendence that underlies all reality may be seen.

Questions and Practises:

I. How does eschatological hope, that all shall be well, change how we watch and wait in the present? How does the hope of the resurrection inform the particular struggles in your life right now?

2. Can you think of a time when you kept watch at night? What was that like? What did this experience teach you about waiting and watching as a metaphor for the whole Christian life?

3. How do you “stay awake” to God? What sorts of experiences wake you up to God’s presence or activity in your life?

Calendar: Please remember that we are celebrating Candlemas tonight. Please bring candles if you wish them blessed.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is Pork and Ricotta Meatballs over Polenta. Discussion about 6:45. Candlemas at 8. Hope to see everyone here.

Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
    where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
    if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning *
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me *
    and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, *
    and the light around me turn to night,”
Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
    darkness and light to you are both alike.
For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 130:6-12

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