What I have left undone.

Since this summer, I have been reading The Divine Hours. No, I don’t do it every day, and, no, I don’t do it at all the prescribed times. But it’s been helpful to have the readings and prayers set out for me. I like saying these things over and over, because the more I say them, the more I believe them. I believe that God cares about peaceful nights, that it means something to say The Gloria every day, that the Psalms don’t have to just be old poetry that I can memorize.

I think the best part of those prayers, for me, is compline, because of the part where, every day (that I remember to do the reading), I ask forgiveness for what I have done and what I have left undone. It’s those things I’ve left undone that are the most likely to keep me awake at night: the apology I didn’t offer, the hand I didn’t extend, the kind word not spoken. I like acknowledging that it’s not just what I do that hurts people (and myself), that what I choose not to do (or don’t bother to do) can be the wrong thing, too. I like it because it’s so different from the idea of sins as lists of things to stay away from. I can’t just check “love thy neighbor” off on a list . . . it’s a way of life. I don’t have to get it right all the time, but it’s better to acknowledge that fact, because if I think about it, I might just be able to choose differently tomorrow.

This quarter’s compline has included this familiar prayer:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones. Soothe your suffering ones. Shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

I won’t swear to it, but I think my first introduction to this prayer was through Madeleine L’Engle, and I’m fairly sure that it was one of her books that pointed out my favorite part of the prayer: to shield the joyous. When I pray that part, I always feel as if I am praying for a bride on the night before her wedding, as she is glowing with the excitement and anticipation of getting to share her life with the man she loves. I would love to be able to protect this imaginary bride from the things that will come, the pain and heartbreak that are part of sharing our lives with those around us, so that she might be that joyful forever. I want the Lord to protect that feeling as much as I want him to heal the sick and bless the dying. The truth, though, is that my idea of healing the sick might not be what the Lord has in mind, and that for many dying people, death itself is a blessing. So it is with joy, too . . . untested, it cannot reach the same depths of joy that has struggled and won. I would not go back to being that bride, because the years between, though they have been challenging, have brought something more substantial. But I will pray for her just the same. I will go on praying for the sick, the weary, the suffering, the dying, and the joyous. I will pray because I believe that it makes a difference, that thinking of others helps me be more mindful of them, that I might not leave my own care for them undone tomorrow. And I will go on praying because it helps me believe in a God who cares for us, no matter which of those categories we find ourselves in.

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