I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. (Ps. 3:5)
In our gospel lesson yesterday, we find one of the recurring themes associated with the season of Advent: “Keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly” (Mk. 13:35-36). Monastic communities have long taken these words to heart. No liturgy exemplifies this as much as Matins, with its twelve psalms and three to twelve readings daily, recited in vigils throughout the night.
For those of us who haven’t devoted ourselves to the same monastic rigor, however, the command to stay alert exists in some tension with the positive qualities that scripture applies to sleep. Even monastic communities seem to have understood that tension. The daily office is bookended by Psalm 4, recited at the end of the day, “I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety,” and Psalm 3, recited at its beginning, “I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.”
How might we, then, “keep awake” even as we honor the other important commitments in life that demand our time and energy? For one, we can start with cultivating a habit of prayer throughout the day. Now, that doesn’t mean we have to start chanting dozens of psalms or reading books of the Bible every day—though, of course, grace and peace to those who can. But it does mean something as simple as reciting the words of the psalmist: “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches” (Ps. 63:6). It means something as simple as waking up and telling ourselves and others “of God’s loving-kindness early in the morning” and preparing for sleeping and talking “of God’s faithfulness in the night season” (Ps. 92:2). And for those of us who are struggling right now and who want to see God’s mercy and faithfulness in our lives, it may mean something like starting with “early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you” (Ps. 5:3) and then offering our petitions to God through Christ.
The second way we can “keep awake” is to live intentionally throughout the day. It’s one thing to start and end our days with God on our lips. It’s another to have God before our eyes as we walk about the world. Jeremy Taylor, a 17th-century Anglican bishop, offers this advice: “Begin every action in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” and “let every action … be begun with prayer.” In everything, Taylor calls us to consider that our actions—even the most mundane and “common action of our life”—may in fact be “the work of God” (Holy Living, I.II). This may seem excessive, but however we do it, devoting ourselves wholly to God will transform our souls so that we may find ourselves growing into the full stature of Christ and thus find ourselves described in the words of our psalm from this morning:
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper. (Ps. 1:3)
Post by Armando Ghinaglia
For the full text of Taylor’s Holy Living, see here: http://www.anglicanlibrary.org/taylor/holyliving/index.htm
The language is complicated and not gender neutral, unfortunately, but the text is a classic in Anglican spirituality.
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