Br. Bede Thomas Mudge, OHC, Prior of the Benedictine Anglican Monastery called Holy Cross in West Park, NY shared this on his blog
I had a period of sabbatical and I went to live for half a year or so with the Sisters of the Love of God, who are an enclosed contemplative Order of nuns in England…
I lived in one of their smaller houses in a village called Hemel Hempstead, near St Alban’s – north of London. The convent was called St Mary and the Angels and it housed a community of 5 or 6 nuns. It was an ordinary largish house in an ordinary suburban neighborhood, and it had a large yard (“garden” the English would say) that gave us some space to wander in…
One of the features of the life of that community was that the Office of Vigils each day was said at 2:00 a.m., and it was largely for that reason that I went to be with them. It seemed like one of the nicest things I could imagine – to have that night prayer be a part of my regular schedule.
I know – many of you think this is weird – or maybe just plain unimaginable. But I liked it – I loved it, actually. It seemed completely natural and I adjusted to the rhythm very quickly…
There is a special quality of silence and depth at that hour. It seems to me to be a time that is built for prayer…. Intercession flows naturally then. And it’s all wrapped in a silence that seems alive. There’s a Presence (with a capital P) to the silence in the middle of the night.
I never gave a lot of thought to what the neighbors thought about all this… I assumed that most of those around us simply ignored us and considered us irrelevant to their lives. Certainly there were few, if any, of them who showed much interest that I could see.
Then came a week when all of us had the flu. We had suffered… sore throats, joint pains, fevers and sniffles for a couple of days when Sister Rachel Mary, the sister in charge, said: “Ok – we’re going to take five or six days off from the Night Office and get enough rest to get well. Then we’ll go back to it.” So we did – and I will have to admit that a whole night of sleep, every night, was quite delicious. It takes a lot of energy to do the Night Office on a regular basis.
So we had our time off and had been doing it for a couple of days, when the phone began to ring. It was the neighbors, and a lot of them, not just a few. “What’s wrong?” they wanted to know. “Why aren’t the sisters in the chapel at night? We’re concerned.” It had never occurred to me that the people around us even noticed what we did at night, much less that it was an important touch-stone in their lives. I didn’t imagine that a practice as exotic as praying at 2 in the morning was part of the fabric of a normal suburban neighborhood of commuters. The fact that they depended on our night prayer at some level of their lives was something I was unprepared for. It was then that I realized that my sense of the importance of praying in the middle of the night was not something as exotic as I had assumed. It seemed to be shared by lots of people. At some level, these folks depended on us being in church while they slept, and it seemed important – even necessary – to them.
This season of Lent we have been focused on prayer. Prayer is one of the instructions given to us on Ash Wednesday on how to observe a Holy Lent, along with fasting, self examination, forgiveness and reading scripture. Many of you have participated in the Lenten program presentations on prayer and in the Sunday prayers for healing. Others of you have not. But regardless the prayers have gone on and I like to think that these prayers resonate within us and outside of us regardless of who is actually doing the praying.
The main idea is that prayer is a response to God who speaks to us first and calls us into relationship. God’s call to human beings has been one of the themes of our Old Testament readings this Lent; the idea of being in a sacred relationship is known as covenant. A sacred relationship with God who promises to bless us as God blessed Abraham and Sarah. God who promises to not cause us suffering as God promised Noah after the flood. God who through Moses promised relationship with God’s people in the 10 Commandments. God who, even when we break or strain our relationship with God, as the Israelites did when the complained in the wilderness, still calls us back into relationship with grace and love. And now today from the prophet Jeremiah we hear of a new covenant, of God who decides to no longer come to us from outside, but now chooses to rise up from within us, to dwell in our hearts.
As Christians we have come to understand this kind of covenantal relationship as the Incarnation, God choosing to act in and through human flesh. And, then as we hear in today’s Gospel, God not only chooses to act in and through human lives, but God desires for us a radical transformation. Because to be in relationship with God is sacred and it will change us in radical ways. We will become Christ like.
To be Christ like means that our anger will dissipate, our capacity for inner peace and compassion will increase, our selfishness will diminish and our love for self and others will increase. God will act within us. And then, like those night prayers of the nuns at the convent in England, God acting in us will impact the world around us. God will write on our hearts, and we will know God and God will know us, and through us others will come to know God as well.