Taken from Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren.Copyright 2021 by Tish Harrison Warren.Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

1Finding ComplineNightfallI t was a dark year in every sense . It began with the movefrom my sunny hometown, Austin, Texas, to Pittsburgh in earlyJanuary. One week later, my dad, back in Texas, died in themiddle of the night. Always towering and certain as a mountainon the horizon, he was suddenly gone.A month later, I miscarried and hemorrhaged, and we prayedCompline in the ER.Grief had compounded. I was homesick. The pain of losingmy dad was seismic, still rattling like aftershocks. It was a bleakseason—we named it, as a grim joke, the “Pitts-of-despair-burgh.”The next month we found out we were pregnant again. It feltlike a miracle. But early on I began bleeding, and the pregnancybecame complicated. I was put on “medically restricted activity.”I couldn’t stand for long periods, walk more than a couple blocks,or lift anything above ten pounds, which meant I couldn’t liftmy then four-year-old. As I spent hours sitting in bed each day,my mind grew dimmer and darker. The bleeding continued nearconstantly for two months, with weekly trips to the hospitalwhen it picked up so much that we worried I was miscarrying orin danger of another hemorrhage. In the end, in late July, earlyin my second trimester, we lost another baby, a son.Prayer in the Night 11 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

12Praying in the DarkDuring that long year, as autumn brought darkening days andfrost settled in, I was a priest who couldn’t pray.I didn’t know how to approach God anymore. There were toomany things to say, too many questions without answers. Mydepth of pain overshadowed my ability with words. And, morepainfully, I couldn’t pray because I wasn’t sure how to trust God.Martin Luther wrote about seasons of devastation of faith,when any naive confidence in the goodness of God withers. It’sthen that we meet what Luther calls “the left hand of God.”1God becomes foreign to us, perplexing, perhaps even terrifying.Adrift in the current of my own doubt and grief, I was flailing.If you ask my husband about 2017, he says simply, “What keptus alive was Compline.” An Anglicization of completorium, or “completion,” Complineis the last prayer office of the day. It’s a prayer service designedfor nighttime.2Imagine a world without electric light, a world lit dimly bytorch or candle, a world full of shadows lurking with unseenterrors, a world in which no one could be summoned when athief broke in and no ambulance could be called, a world wherewild animals hid in the darkness, where demons and ghosts andother creatures of the night were living possibilities for everyone.This is the context in which the Christian practice of nighttimeprayers arose, and it shapes the emotional tenor of these prayers.For much of history, night was simply terrifying.Roger Ekirch begins his fascinating history of nighttime bysaying, “It would be difficult to exaggerate the suspicion andinsecurity bred by darkness.”3 In the eighteenth century,Edmund Burke said there was no other “idea so universally terrible in all times, and in all countries, as darkness.”4 Shakespeare’s Lucrece famously laments the “comfort-killing night,image of hell.”5Prayer in the Night 12 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

Finding Compline13Nighttime is also a pregnant symbol in the Christian tradition.God made the night. In wisdom, God made things such thatevery day we face a time of darkness. Yet in Revelation we’re toldthat at the end of all things, “night will be no more” (Revelation22:5; cf. Isaiah 60:19). And Jesus himself is called a light in thedarkness. He is the light that darkness cannot overcome.The sixteenth-century Saint John of the Cross coined thephrase “the dark night of the soul” to refer to a time of grief,doubt, and spiritual crisis, when God seems shadowy anddistant.6 The reason this resonates with us is because nighttypifies our fears and doubts—“the hard day of the soul” or “thegray morning of the soul” would never have had the samestaying power.And in a darkness so complete that it’s hard for us to nowimagine, Christians rose from their beds and prayed vigils in thenight. The third-century North African theologian Tertullianrefers to “assemblies at night” in which families would rise fromtheir sleep to pray together.7 In the East, Basil the Great instructed Christians that “at the beginning of the night we askthat our rest be without offense . . . and at this hour also Psalm[91] must be recited.”8 Long after night vigils ceased to be aregular practice among families, monks continued to praythrough the small hours, rising in the middle of the night tosing Psalms together, staving off the threat of darkness. Centuries of Christians have faced their fears of unknown dangersand confessed their own vulnerability each night, using thedependable words the church gave them to pray.Of course, not all of us feel afraid at night. I have friends whorelish nighttime—its stark beauty, its contemplative quiet, itsspace to think and pray. 9 Anne Brontë begins her poem “Night”declaring, “I love the silent hour of night.”10There is much to love about the night. Nightingale song andcandlelight, the sparkling city or the crackling of a fire as starsslowly creep across the sky, the sun descending into the horizonPrayer in the Night 13 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

14Praying in the Darksilhouetting a reddened sky. Yet each of us begins to feel vulnerable if the darkness is too deep or lasts too long. It is in largepart due to the presence of light that we can walk aroundwithout fear at night. With the flick of a switch, we can see aswell as if we were in daylight. But go out into the woods or farfrom civilization, and we still feel the almost primordial senseof danger and helplessness that nighttime brings.In deep darkness, even the strongest among us are smalland defenseless.Despite modernity’s buzzing light bulbs and twenty-four-hourdrive-throughs, we nonetheless face our vulnerability in aunique way as darkness falls. There’s a reason horror movies areusually set at night. We still speak of the “witching hour.” Andpoet John Rives, the curator of The Museum of Four in theMorning, a website that archives literary and pop culture references to 4 a.m., calls it the “worst possible hour of the day.”11These wee hours, he says, are a popular shorthand infused withmeaning across genres, cultures, and centuries.Night is not just hours on the clock. How many of us lie awakeat night, unable to fall back asleep, worrying over the day ahead,thinking of all that could go wrong, counting our sorrows?Our very bodies confront darkness each night. So each nightwe practice facing our truest state: we are exposed, we cannotcontrol our lives, we will die.In the daylight, I’m distracted. At moments, even productive.At night I feel alone, even in a house full of sleeping bodies.I feel small and mortal.The darkness of nighttime amplifies grief and anxiety. I’mreminded with the setting of the sun that our days are numbered, and full of big and little losses.We are all so very, very vulnerable.We can speak of vulnerability as something we choose. Wedecide whether to “let ourselves” be vulnerable through sharingor withholding our truest selves—our stories, opinions, orPrayer in the Night 14 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

15Finding Complinefeelings. In this sense, vulnerabilitymeans emotional exposure or honesty.Every twenty-fourBut this isn’t the kind of vulnerabilityhours, nighttimeI mean. Instead, I mean the unchosengives us a chance tovulnerability that we all carry, whetherpractice embracingwe admit it or not. The term vulnerable comes from a Latin wordour own vulnerability.meaning “to wound.” 12 We arewound-able. We can be hurt and destroyed, in body, mind, andsoul. All of us, every last man, woman, and child, bear this kindof vulnerability till our dying day.And every twenty-four hours, nighttime gives us a chance topractice embracing our own vulnerability.13 I don’t remember when I began praying Compline. It didn’tbegin dramatically. I’d heard Compline sung many times indarkened sanctuaries where I’d sneak in late and sit in silence,listening to prayers sung in perfect harmony.In a home with two priests, copies of the Book of CommonPrayer are everywhere, lying around like spare coasters. So onenight, lost in the annals of forgotten nights, I picked it up andprayed Compline.And then I kept doing it. I began praying Compline moreoften, barely registering it as any kind of new practice. It wasjust something I did, not every day, but a few nights a week,because I liked it. I found it beautiful and comforting.A pattern of monastic prayer was largely set by Benedict andhis monks in the sixth century. They prayed eight times a day:Matins (before dawn), Lauds (at sunrise), then Prime, Terce,Sext, None, and Vespers throughout the day (each about threehours apart). Finally, at bedtime, Compline.14The Anglican Book of Common Prayer condensed theseeight canonical hours into two prayer “offices,” morning andPrayer in the Night 15November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

16Praying in the Darkevening prayer. But some Anglicans (as well as lay RomanCatholics, Lutherans, and others) continued to have fixednight prayers. Eventually, in Anglican prayer books these twoprayer offices were expanded to four, adding vespers and aCompline service.15Like most prayer offices, Compline includes a confession, areading from the Psalms and other Scriptures, written and responsive prayers, and a time for silence or extemporaneous prayer. For most of my life, I didn’t know there were different kinds ofprayer. Prayer meant one thing only: talking to God with wordsI came up with. Prayer was wordy, unscripted, self-expressive,spontaneous, and original. And I still pray this way, every day.“Free form” prayer is a good and indispensable way to pray.But I’ve come to believe that in order to sustain faith over alifetime, we need to learn different ways of praying. Prayer is avast territory, with room for silence and shouting, for creativityand repetition, for original and received prayers, for imagination and reason.I brought a friend to my Anglican church and she objectedto how our liturgy contained (in her words) “other people’sprayers.” She felt that prayer should be an original expressionof one’s own thoughts, feelings, and needs. But over a lifetimethe ardor of our belief will wax and wane. This is a normal partof the Christian life. Inherited prayers and practices of thechurch tether us to belief, far more securely than our own vacillating perspective or self-expression.Prayer forms us. And different ways of prayer aid us just asdifferent types of paint, canvas, color, and light aid a painter.When I was a priest who could not pray, the prayer offices ofthe church were the ancient tool God used to teach me to prayagain. Stanley Hauerwas explains his love for praying “otherpeople’s prayers”: “Evangelicalism,” he says, “is constantly underPrayer in the Night 16 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

17Finding Complinethe burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired.” Hecalls himself an advocate for practicing prayer offices because,We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to saythese prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading ofthe psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. . . There’s much to be said for Christianity as repetitionand I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in aworld that constantly tempts us to always think we haveto do something new.16When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, theDaily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, ordrum up in ourselves. “Other people’s prayers” discipled me; theyWhen we pray thetaught me how to believe again.prayers we’ve beenThe sweep of church history exgiven by the church—claims lex orandi, lex credendi, thatthe prayers of thethe law of prayer is the law ofpsalmist and the saints,belief.17 We come to God with ourlittle belief, however fleeting andthe Lord’s Prayer, thefeeble, and in prayer we are taughtDaily Office—weto walk more deeply into truth.pray beyond what weWhen my strength waned and mycan know, believe, orwords ran dry, I needed to fall into away of belief that carried me. I neededdrum up in ourselves.other people’s prayers. When my own dark night of the soul came in 2017, nighttimewas terrifying. The stillness of night heightened my own senseof loneliness and weakness. Unlit hours brought a vacantspace where there was nothing before me but my own fearsPrayer in the Night 17November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

18IPraying in the Darkand whispering doubts. I’d stare at the hard, undeniable factsthat anyone I loved could die that night, and that everyone Ilove will die someday—facts we most often ignore so we canmake it through the day intact.So I’d fill the long hours of darkness with glowing screens,consuming mass amounts of articles and social media, bingewatching Netflix, and guzzling think pieces till I collapsed intoa fitful sleep. When I tried to stop, I’d sit instead in the barenight, overwhelmed and afraid. Eventually I’d begin to cry and,feeling miserable, return to screens and distraction—because itwas better than sadness. It felt easier, anyway. Less heavy.The mechanics of my nightly internet consumption were thesame as those of the addict: faced with grief and fear, I turnedto something to numb myself. When I compulsively opened upmy computer, I’d go for hours without thinking about death ormy dad or miscarriages or homesickness or my confusion aboutGod’s presence in the midst of suffering.I began seeing a counselor. When I told her about my sadnessand anxiety at night, she challenged me to turn off digital devices and embrace what she called “comfort activities” eachnight—a long bath, a book, a glass of wine, prayer, silence, journaling maybe. No screens. I fell offthewagon probably a hundred timesneeded a comfort thatin as many days.looked unflinchinglyBut slowly I started to return toat loss and death. Compline.I needed words to contain mysadness and fear. I needed comfort, but I needed the sort ofcomfort that doesn’t pretend that things are shiny or safe orright in the world. I needed a comfort that looked unflinchinglyat loss and death. And Compline is rung round with death.It begins “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night anda perfect end.” A perfect end of what? I’d think—the day, theweek? My life? We pray, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commendPrayer in the Night 18November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

19Finding Complinemy spirit”—the words Jesus spoke as he was dying. We pray, “Beour light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercydefend us from all perils and dangers of this night,” because weare admitting the thing that, left on my own, I go to greatlengths to avoid facing: there are perils and dangers in thenight. We end Compline by praying, “That awake we maywatch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” Requiescatin pace. RIP.Compline speaks to God in the dark. And that’s what I hadto learn to do—to pray in the darkness of anxiety and vulnerability, in doubt and disillusionment. It was Compline thatgave words to my anxiety and grief and allowed me to reencounter the doctrines of the church not as tidy little antidotesfor pain, but as a light in darkness, as good news.When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline ingrief cannot be mere optimism that maybe our circumstanceswill improve because we know that may not be true. We needpractices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but thatteach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility.During that difficult year, I didn’t know how to hold to bothGod and the awful reality of human vulnerability. What I foundwas that it was the prayers and practices of the church that allowed me to hold to—or rather to be held by—God when littleelse seemed sturdy, to hold to the Christian story even when Ifound no satisfying answers.There is one prayer in particular, toward the end of Compline, that came to contain my longing, pain, and hope. It’s aprayer I’ve grown to love, that has come to feel somehow likepart of my own body, a prayer we’ve prayed so often now as afamily that my eight-year-old can rattle it off verbatim:Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, orweep this night, and give your angels charge over thosewho sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to thePrayer in the Night 19 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM

20Praying in the Darkweary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.Amen.This prayer is widely attributed to St. Augustine,18 but healmost certainly did not write it. It seems to suddenly appearcenturies after Augustine’s death. A gift, silently passed intotradition, that allowed one family at least to endure this glorious, heartbreaking mystery of faith for a little longer.As I said this prayer each night, I saw faces. I would say “blessthe dying” and imagine the final moments of my father’s life, ormy lost sons. I would pray that God would bless those who workand remember the busy nurses who had surrounded me in thehospital. I would say “shield the joyous” and think of mydaughters sleeping safely in their room, cuddled up with theirstuffed owl and flamingo. I’d say “soothe the suffering” and seemy mom, newly widowed and adrift in grief on the other sideof the country. I’d say “give rest to the weary” and trace theworry lines on my husband’s sleeping face. And I would thinkof the collective sorrow of the world, which we all carry in bigand small ways—the horrors that take away our breath, and thecommon, ordinary losses of all our lives.Like a botanist listing different oak species along a trail, thisprayer lists specific categories of human vulnerability. Insteadof praying in general for the weak or needy, we pause beforeparticular lived realities, unique instances of mortality andweakness, and invite God into each.This book is a meditation on this beloved prayer. It’s abouthow to continue to walk the way of faith without denying thedarkness. It’s about the terrible yet common suffering we eachshoulder, and what trusting God might mean in the midst of it.19Prayer in the Night 20 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM


Prayer in the Night 11 November 3, 2020 1:25 PM 1 Finding Compline Nightfall It was a It bega