Vespers are on my mind this Sunday evening. Back home after a Carmelite retreat, I opened my breviary on the porch as the shadows lengthened and the breeze made the air so delightfully fresh. A lovely way to begin to bring the day to a close and to ask God’s blessings upon it all.
In the last several weeks I have found myself in a number of conversations with half a dozen women who are new to praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I answered a few questions, suggested a book and a website ( you’ll find these on Coffee and Canticles thanks to my friend, Daria) and discussed rubrics, the beauty of the Office of Readings and sometimes, the struggles that we have in finding the time to pray in our busy days.
Skyping with a newly-married niece, I was also surprised this week to see her hold up the wedding gift she received from her husband, a four volume Liturgy of the Hours. Now that is a marriage that is off to a good start!
On two nights of the retreat, a group of Carmelites from our community introduced some of the newbies into the intricacies of chanting Compline together, instead of a simple recitation. Their joy at the other worldly aura of our voices blending together was sweet to behold.
Earlier in the week I picked up a novel that had been on our homeschool reading list. No doubt I had read it twenty some years ago…….The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock. After all these years it seemed new to me and, there, in Chapter V, a dear scene in which a mother and her eldest daughter head off alone into the church for Evensong.
“I loved Evensong. I loved the stillness of the church that enfolded the small evening congregation, the mellow evening sunshine that slanted in low through the windows in summer, the gathering, sombre shadows of spring and autumn evenings, and the profounder darkness of the winter months, all wrapped the evening worship in a mystery and a beauty…..
Mother settled into our pew with a happy sigh. The evening service was a cherished time for her, when she could give herself to the worship without the stress of the little ones’ company or the anxiety of being late……
Glory to thee, my God, this night
For all the blessings of the light
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings
Beneath thine own almighty wings.
I knew about his almighty wings. They were folding around us here, in the quiet of the evening, kind and everlasting and utterly secure. It was the same wings that wrapped me round in our home, in the bedtime candlelight. Sanctuary from the busy and complicated daytime, God gathered us under his evening wing, haven for all our weariness.
The evening service felt as familiar as an old friend, comfortable to be with. I knew these prayers and Actually, I could say them all while thinking about something completely different, which to my sham I frequently did.
‘My soul doth magnify the Lord: and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,’ we sang.
I thought of Peregrine, singing the same words, but in Latin, all those years ago; wrapped like me in the contentment of evening calm, blissfully unaware of the turbulence of surprise and grief that lay around the corner…’No! I told myself sharply, ‘this is not the time! Come out of the walled garden and shut the door firmly behind you and turn your back on it. Concentrate!’
“Glory be to the father, and to the Son….Mrs. Crabtree sang vigorously behind me.
Father Carnforth took the evening service. his gentle, wheezy old voice led us through the prayers; the Lord’s prayer, the responses, the collect of the day. I felt reassured by the humble confidence with which he prayed.
‘Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give…’
What a gift! What a thing to ask for! And yet, incredibly, it is given. I knew that peace; I had been brought up with the flavour and texture of it in our home. Peace, at the very core of things, constantly unobtrusive, like the humming of the fridge and the ticking of the clock. Peace, freely given. Beyond our making, or even our understanding. Thank you, God.
May every one of us know this peace and may our prayers at Vespers serve to still the world and make us open and receptive to the divine presence.