Drawn into an experience of God’s presence

05 September 2014

Kenneth V. Peterson reflects on compline

COMPLINE has provided those who sing, and those who listen, with opportunities to enter into sacred time, and to have their own direct experiences of the divine.

Every week, I feel touched by the presence of those who come - to listen, to meditate, and to connect with the Presence that is both within and among us.

Wayne Teasdale writes:

The Divine Reality . . . is everywhere, in everything, and radiates from all beings. . . It also appears in the depths of the self and the unconscious, in dreams, creativity, love, wonder, philosophical reflection, poetic inspiration, in chance meetings, and in all the little joys of life. There is no place we can look or be that we will not find God, if only we recognise what we are seeing.

(The Mystic Hours, New World Library, 2004)

At some point in the search for the divine reality comes a deep revelation, as well as a paradox: that if God pervades all (including ourselves), then our search could be just as well described as God's seeking us. This is expressed in Psalm 139: "Lord, you have searched me and known me. . ."

As the psalm so beautifully describes, the spiritual journey includes both attraction and aversion. We are attracted to the divine presence through encounters with beauty, a sense of peace, or through memorable feelings of forgiveness or grace.

In addition to these, the devotional texts from compline, and the ritual connection to something deep within the human consciousness, began to draw me into an experience of God.

At the same time, we constantly avoid encounters with the divine, through expressions of our own unworthiness, dwelling on our own fear or despair, or seeking diversions that are transitory. Entering into the spiritual life is a constant process of "letting go" of things that hold us back.


One thing that can free us to change and take action is a reminder of our own impermanence, and the passing away of all material things. Many of the texts we sing at compline speak of seeking our unchanging Source in the midst of the changing universe. We sing of that "trust in things Divine" that comes only when we free ourselves from things that are passing away, and direct our attention to things eternal.

At the same time, we are deepening our experiences of God through a continual process called attunement:

We shall never be ourselves until we know we are here to become more and more attuned to something bigger and grander than we are. Nothing less than such attunement will pull out of us that which lies waiting to be completed in us. . . Attunement occurs when we focus ourselves so that our energy begins to open to the single direction of God. . . Paradoxically, we find that while the power source, God, is far more than anything we can drum up, it also lives in our depths. The more we are attuned to God, the more we become ourselves.

(John Gorsuch An Invitation to the Spiritual Journey, Paulist, 1990)

This is the third of four edited extracts from

Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing compline by Kenneth V. Peterson (Paraclete Press, £12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.70); 978-1-61261-376-5). Reviewed, Books, 17 April.

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