When I lived in BC, my work took me into circles of historians, archivists, and like-minded folks—most of whom were older than I was. I learned that some members of a local historical society were lamenting, “How can we get younger people interested in history? If we don’t, our work will be for naught.” But a wise friend whom I’ve known since we were children told me how he responds to such laments: “When those younger people get older,they’ll become interested in history too. And so the historical society won’t end.”
On the back slope of 50, I’m discovering that many of my perspectives are changing—not only my perspectives about history, but also about success and failure, about parenting, about work and rest, and also about life with God. Some of these changing perspectives are likely triggered by getting to know my children anew as adults, by watching my friends retire, and by discovering that my body doesn’t recover from injuries as quickly as it used to. As well, having been lived under Christian influences for more than 5 decades, I find myself asking new questions about faith. (And so this theme of getting older may reappear in this blog.)
Last month, in order to have a place for writing that would be conducive to making progress on my dissertation, I spent 4 weeks (daytimes only) in the library at St. Benedict’s on the Red. While working there, I paused at noon and at 5pm to join the monastery’s sisters for their daily prayers.
One week, I found myself deeply moved by two hymns, both of which acknowledged that we will all die, but that in our dying as in our living we can count on God to give us the light we need. We sang one hymn in the middle of our workday before eating lunch and resuming our work, and the other at evening in anticipation of the darkness of night. It seemed remarkable and somehow encouraging that amidst our work and in conjunction with the fading of daylight, we could trust God for our eventual dying, just as we then walked out of the chapel and trusted God for our working and our nightly rest.
I’ve placed the words to these two hymns below, and would love to see more church songwriters integrate the reality of dying into their texts in ways that are neither sentimental or funereal, but deeply integrated with living.
A midday prayer by Marietta Crahan, OSB
O God, our strength in all we do,
your gift of love each hour renew.
Our life, our Truth, our only Way;
your gift of time is ours this day.
As evening of our life draws near,
all darkness then will disappear
when hours and days have passed away
before your Light to endless Day.
This midday hour we give you praise
that you are with us all our days.
O triune God, forever be
our Life, our Light eternally. Amen.
An evening prayer by Mary David Callahan, OSB
Now as we see the close of day
O God of all the world we pray,
that in your mercy ever deep
You may protect us while we sleep.
When we perceive that death draws near,
console us and remove our fear;
may we with light and grace be blessed,
and find in You eternal rest.
O gracious God of love give ear
through Christ, your Wisdom, Word, and Son,
in rhythm with the Spirit’s cry;
O Threefold Light forever One.
CREDITS: The painting ‘Manhood’ (above) is one of four titled The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole (1842, USA). Click on this link for an introduction to the paintings’ depictions of life’s stages; I find the description of middle-age compelling. The photo of the chapel at St. Benedict’s on the Red is from http://monastery.stbens.ca.
P.S. Please accept my apology if you’ve received this blog post twice. I had to re-post it, so that it would appear on my FaceBook page.