Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name.
Over the past several years I’ve kind of fallen in love with the tradition of Evening Prayer. It’s somewhat rare–when I was in Chicago two weeks ago, for instance, none of the downtown Episcopal churches nearby offered it–but Trinity Episcopal here in Statesville, where I am a member, has taken it up as a Lenten offering and schedules prayer service throughout the weeks leading up to Easter. The services are all led by laypeople, and I usually sign up to lead once a week or so.
It’s quickly become one of the greatest sanctuaries I’ve ever had in my spiritual life.
The church is purposefully darkened for this end of day service. I usually turn on only a few lights. I keep a candle on the podium by which to read and light a candle on either side of the altar. There’s no music, only scripture and prayer.
“Be our light in the darkness, O Lord,” reads one of the collects I tend to frequent. The sun is setting. The light through the stained glass windows is fading. Evening is growing upon us. “In your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.”
It might sound overdramatic to wade back through the valleys in one’s spiritual life, and I don’t intend to write too much here (at least, right now) of those times. But I firmly believe that, even in our darkest moment, in the times when God seems far away–or even when we’ve purposefully made it so–there are times when he will show back up in the tiniest and most startling way.
My friend and Episcopal priest Michael Hudson wrote about a moment like this in his blog this week, in which he recalled studying abroad in college and touring countless cathedrals in Europe and discovered, in the seventh one, grooves that were worn into the stones in front of the altar rail, indentions worn by thousands and thousands of bent knees. Michael was in a personal valley, so to speak, and while there was no moment of blinding conviction in the seventh cathedral, the presence of countless seekers left him feeling changed. (My summation of his good story is weak, and I’d encourage you to check out his blog, Ordinary Mindfulness, and this particular entry.)
Evening prayer has often been for me the quiet, focused place where tiny revelations with bigger thoughts behind them spring up. There are rarely crowds at the prayer service, often only three or four. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been the only person there.
And that’s absolutely fine. The quieter, the better. I’ve led and received prayer service with people I’ve never met before–and, strangely, that can be even more powerful. We are seekers. That is bond enough.
The collect quoted above always gives me pause. What perils face me? Will there be help? Tiny revelations? We pray in the General Thanksgiving for God to “give us such an awareness of your mercies.” In the space after that prayer, I try to pause and look for them. I try to leave as much silence as I can.
I am a seeker at Evening Prayer. And as Michael pointed out, the presence of other seekers and their pathways to God rarely fades away. It can be felt unexpectedly, and sometimes the moment couldn’t be more necessary.
And for me, that smallest happening, that particle of God, has saved me over and over and over. Thanks be to God.