Facing My Mortality: Praying the Compline, Part 2

Facing My Mortality: Praying the Compline, Part 2 February 26, 2015

The Compline, or Night Prayer, is the last prayer said as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. As my Lenten discipline, I have added the Night Prayer to my rather thin prayer practice, which has consisted of praying the Office of Readings in the morning. I’ve tried to pray the Compline before, but it hasn’t worked. My darkest thoughts come to me at night. Doubts about my work, the purpose of my life, and fear of death haunt me. The Compline’s focus on resting in peace cuts too close to the bone. It has stoked my anxiety about the disappearance of “me” from this world rather than relieved it.

But unexpectedly, after praying the Compline for one week, my “me” focus has shifted, however slightly. I think it has been a result of the examination of conscience, which begins the night office. Like my fear of death, my discomfort at my daily failures has led to a pattern of determined avoidance. Yet the Compline begins with a call, in the dark of night, to face up to how I have let myself down during the day, failing in encounters with others to be loving, forgiving, gentle and kind – all the things I want to be but somehow never quite accomplish.

What are the signs of my failures? In myself, I notice twinges of anger and resentment. It’s pretending to be nice when I cannot seem to summon a genuine response. Because I am focused only on what they did wrong, on how they hurt me. I’m all blame and no personal accountability. In others I observe their hurt feelings, their emotional withdrawals from me, their mirroring of my anger and resentment. The blame I’m dishing out circles back to strike me like a deadly aimed boomerang. Eruptions of big, emotional displays are rare, though it does happen with certain family members who will remain nameless to protect their innocence. But mostly it’s more subtle, a feeling of disturbance in our relationship. Love is absent; resentment rules.

Holding the lapses up for examination, thinking intentionally about them, has had the unexpected effect of quieting the resentment. Thinking consciously about what I could have done better has made me a bit ashamed of how I had put all the blame on others. Examining my conscious has allowed me a glimpse of the relationship through their eyes: they are hurt, too, it turns out, because they are seeking the love I have not been able to summon. Unexpectedly, feelings of genuine love have begun to stir.

My failures to love are little, daily deaths, I see now, because they are failures to live the life God intends for me, for us. The life made possible by the atoning power of the Cross is a life grounded in forgiveness that traverses the brokenness between people. By recognizing my own need for forgiveness, I have been given a bigger heart, one that understands rather than blames. Forgiveness extends the boundaries of our communities of love by including those we have excluded, even allowing us to include the fears we have excluded from our own hearts. Hear anew these words from Psalm 130 prayed at night, prayed as confession:

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord who would survive?

But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you.

Browse Our Archives