May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
I chant this line every night before bed since it is the call to prayer in the Divine Hours, the opening notes of my nightly song, the beginning of my movement into the little Death.
My help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth
Compline is different like that. If Lauds and Vespers are about the thin space created in the blurring of distinctions, in the fuzzy double vision of shadowy difference, Compline is about the collapse of all distinctions into the single, formless void.
In Compline we blow the candles out.
Almighty God, my Heavenly Father, I have sinned against you in thought and word and deed, in what I have done and in what I have left undone. For the sake of your son, our Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me all of my offenses and grant that I may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name.
In ancient Jewish Cosmology, Earth was the place between the waters. In creation, God pulled back some of the waters and stored them above the firmament (this is why the sky is blue and why water sometimes falls from it) and he placed the rest of the waters below the ground and into defined boundaries called lakes, rivers, and oceans.
Humans can only exist in this pocket of air, this space between the waters. Humans can only exist in this world of distinctions, of order, where the waters stay where they are supposed to stay.
Glory be to God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
But Death comes for us all.
Noah’s flood carries most of its terror not from the physical drowning of most of humanity, but from God’s intentional undoing of order; his erasure of difference (which is what kills people). The waters of God broke through Heaven and crashed up through Earth. And this terra firma was annihilated.
And, once more, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
Into your hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit. For you have redeemed me oh Lord, of God of truth. Keep me, oh Lord, as the apple of your eye; and hide me under the shadow of your wings.
Every night that you sleep you experience the little Death. The big Death is nothing more than the failure to wake up, nothing more than the failure to reassert definition over the world around you. The collapse of difference, this is Death.
And mystery of mysteries, it is also life.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
For God bridged the difference by taking on human flesh. And he erased the difference by dying in ignominy.* And just as the waters began to rumble, and the flood gates opened to deluge the earth, so Death was swallowed up in victory.
Compline only works if you are going to wake up the next morning and join the dawn in restoring the definitions; if the cold candle will be re-lit, if Lauds follow the darkness of sleep.
Keep watch, Dear Lord, with those who word or watch or weep this night, and give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones, oh Lord Christ; rest your weary ones, bless your dying ones, and soothe your suffering ones, pity your afflicted ones, and shield your joyous ones, all for your love’s sake. Amen.
If Compline signals the crash of Heaven into Earth, the flooding of the world with primordial waters of creation, then Lauds (where definitions are starting to appear) and Vespers (where definitions are beginning to weaken) serve as thin places, places where God’s presence can more easily be detected. For in the shadows, looking through a glass darkly, God can be detected at work.
Lord, you now have set your servant to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see; a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people, Israel. Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
*I would like the be clear that I am not making a precise articulation of the way the Godhead relates to humanity. Rather, in reaching for poetic language, I, like Ephrem of Syria, am trying to get at a piece of the mystery of God.