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The ending of the day

15 August 2014

Kenneth V. Peterson on the late-night office of compline

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 spiritual journey.

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 of creation.

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

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