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 Daily Evening Prayer: Rite Two, The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
I spend a lot of time working at night when others are asleep. I should go to bed earlier but it is not so easy to do. The early hours are ones I have kept company with for many years. During graduate school I often worked late into the night and on to the morning because the pressure on the main frame computer was less then and I could do my work. These days I am able to accomplish work for the house that I am too distracted by others during the day to accomplish.
Being able to work is not the only reason I keep company with the dark. It is a quite and soulful time. The soft sounds of night do not drown out the sounds of thought. The gentle snore of the dog accompanied by the slightly louder snores of the others sleeping in the house remind me of my humanity and of how blessed I am to have these people who are sleeping safely in the place where I am. I am comforted by the sounds of the night.
In our old house our office and bedroom occupied the loft area. It was, as one person put it, Our Kingdom. In a way that is true. People, even invited, did not spend a great deal of time in our large office-library. I discovered that one friend who house sat for us twice had never been upstairs until I asked him to look at something on my computer in the office.
Our new house will also have Our Kingdom but I hope it will be more inviting to others. The office-library in this new house, like the old, is a loft with low eves. This house has windows set into the shoulder of the wall so that you can sit in a chair and read a book and look out the window into the trees. I look forward to doing that. I think the night will be beautiful that way. It will allow me to hear the soft sounds of my spouse and my dog sleeping assuring me that in my kingdom all is right with the world.
That rightness lets me contemplate places where all is not right in the world. Sometimes when I am acutely aware of the sorrow that envelopes someone or some place I keep watch. I sit and I wait. I wait pain to pass. I wait for healing to come. It is not waiting just to pass time, it is active waiting with expectation that things can be different. Over the years I have had expat and native friends, family and colleagues from some of the areas of the worst violence in Africa. During my night it is their day. I have kept watch waiting expectantly for hope to come.
I have always thought that violence can be the result of lost hope. When there is no vision of how things could be better or no yearning urging you forward anger and despair move in. Together they are the worst sort of violence. When you have no expectation of anything beyond the very moment you inhabit you have no markers by which to understand that moment. Living in the moment is all well and good but only if there is the expectation of moments to come and the knowledge of moments that were before. Living in a single moment with no past or no future is to be cut adrift with nothing to anchor to. Violence has no guidance or limits when there is no reality.
So I wait for hope.
I wait for hope for those who struggle with illness and dying. Hope is an elusive partner of death. For some there is the hope of the resurrection, being reborn or some other type of life after death. For believers, these are things hoped for but also believed in. I think that belief is the stronger of the two when it comes to the transition from life to death. Hope though, ah, hope gives courage and courage fuels belief. Hope is the thing that sustains us through the dark times of death.
In this prayer, we are counted in for our work, or watching and our weeping. We are counted in all parts of our humanity.
The prayer also brings into the human condition prayed for not just the usual prayers for the negative things in our lives, strength to persevere, recovery from illness, protection from danger it includes joy. It is an odd sort of comment on joy, shield the joyous. I have during my life, alternately thought of this as protecting people who are joyful from the harsher reality of life or shield the joyous so that they can be joyful.
I think that I am right on both counts. I think that we need to be aware that our joy is not isolated and that there are harsh things in our world. I also think that those who are joyous temper the harshness of the bad things in the world.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night. We each can watch for the other. In those early soulful hours that I inhabit, I am watching for those who work, or watch or weep this night. I can bring hope. I can bring soothing, I can bring bring my pity and I can bring my shield for the joyous. Through my intentions and my actions I can do this and all for love’s sake.