THE office of compline refers many times to the contrasts
symbolised by light and darkness; among these are good and evil, or
knowledge and ignorance. The dangers of the night come with the
darkness, and salvation comes with the dawn.
Inner darkness is alienation from God and entrapment in false
pursuits; enlightenment is the finding of our true selves. In our
spiritual journey, we must be alert and awake both to the
significance of experience and to the choices between light and
darkness with which we are presented every day.
The image of sleep as a "little death" stirs us to contemplate
our own end - compline underscores this with the response "Into
your hands I commend my spirit," and the canticle "Lord, let your
servant depart in peace." We need to prepare for death, to "number
our days", that through knowledge of our relationship to this life
and its divine source, we may come to an acceptance and an
embracing of our lives, including our life's end.
In praying a monastic office, we enter into sacred time, where
our attention is entirely in the present moment, but where past and
future are contained as well. Through prayer, contemplation, and
silence, we enter into an inner sacred space, where communion is
found with the divine presence. Such mystical encounters strengthen
our relationship with the divine, and increase attunement on our
The process of making sacred music has made me keenly aware of
the relationship of beauty to divine truth, and the part played by
the artist in giving us glimpses of the divine presence. We need
such experiences to counter the noise and stress of our present
time, as well as all that is a source of fear and anxiety.
Encounters with beauty bring us closer to everything that is
good, and strengthen our inner love of harmony and quality in our
work and relationships. We learn to appreciate the beautiful, and
to become "artists" in the creation of our daily lives, which is
simply revealing God working in us and through us.
We all belong to communities: families, groups, nations, the
world. In singing the office of compline, I have been part of a
special community of those with whom I make music, and, in a
broader sense, with those for whom we offer the service.
Even the contributions of those who have been a part of our work
and passed on remain in the culture and fabric of our communal
life. As we deepen our relationship with God, finding our true
selves, we realise that we are one with our brothers and sisters,
growing in compassion, inclusiveness, and hospitality.
From the office of compline comes the last but perhaps most
important theme, the transformation of the soul towards inner
peace. Released from fear, we are protected and safe through the
emptying of ourselves in meditation, through faith and acceptance
of our life and death, through compassion for others. Through
compline, we find the protection that we seek, not from some remote
deity, but from the divine manifested within ourselves and in all
This is the first of four edited extracts from Prayer
as Night Falls: Experiencing compline by Kenneth V. Peterson,
published by Paraclete Press at £12.99 (CT Bookshop
£11.70); 978-1-61261-376-5. Reviewed, Books, 17 April