Today’s Bible reading
Read Psalm 134
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord.
May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.
More thoughts for meditation
This Psalm is used regularly during compline, the last prayer service of the day in the Divine Office, recited by monks and others just before retiring to bed. It seems to have had a very specific liturgical function in ancient Judaism as well, blessing those who served the “night shift” in the Temple, and calling upon them to offer blessing to the Lord.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says that we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” For a culture that was full of temples and holy places, this phrase would have been very meaningful to his audience. It surely would have meant more to them then it does to us, as it has become more or less equivalent to advocating for certain kinds of sexual behavior. It is too bad that we miss the sublime importance of what Paul is saying, which is that the meeting place between heaven and earth is found no other place then within the person.
Our temple has its own “night watch,” which tends the holy fire within our hearts far away from the attention of our consciousness. Most of the time, we are not aware of what goes on in the depths of our being, but that is where the important stuff happens. Our growth comes out of those depths. The spiritual life is not obvious. It requires trust in things that are unseen. Most of us would admit that we can not see God; it may require some more faith to believe that we do not know the depths of our own being either. However, when considering what has a habit of occupying our conscious awareness, I think that this is actually good news!
The events of life provoke responses that often undermine our sense of ourselves. A chance word heard offhand stimulates a cavalcade of anxiety and shame. The news cycle makes us feel helpless and angry. There is a kind of conversation that we hold with the world around us that is predicated on falsehood and fear. However, beneath our consciousness is a part of us that continues to hold holy conversation with the Lord, blessing and being blessed, even while the rest of us is waylaid by anxiety, depression, shame, and the like.
To quote Father Stephen Freeman: “That which is most obvious is never the full story, either about ourselves or others. Christ invites us into the fullness of His life, to live in union with the full story, no matter how deeply it might be hidden. At the very depth of the soul is a song of unbounded thanksgiving.”
Suggestions for action
Consider the shift in awareness that comes with the night. You may have experienced this if you grew up in the country, or ever spent a night outdoors, but even in the city we can feel it. Things do not stand out so starkly. The events of the day pool together, as the trees and buildings are absorbed into the night sky, preparing the mind for a more integrative vision of ourselves and the world. It is a time that is ripe for reflection. Even in our sleep, the mind continues to process the events of the day.
Listen to the monks of Mt. Saviour chant the night office. They begin with Psalm 91 – “he who dwells in the shelter of the most high…” before moving directly to Psalm 134. They conclude with this prayer, which you might pray as well before you go to bed tonight:
Come down, we beseech You, O Lord, upon this house, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy. Let Your holy angels dwell in it and keep us in peace, and may Your blessing be with us always. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen
So do not despair, and do not “fear the terrors of night.”