By Michelle Francl-Donnay
By day the Lord ordains His kindness and by night His song is with me – prayer to the God of my life. – Ps. 42:9
What if the night were a place and not a time? What if you wanted to see the stars you had to walk to the night side of the earth? Would we ever go? Could we ever look? Would we stay very long? Or would we peek over the edge and depart as quickly as we could?
I had gone out to sit on the beach as the sun set. The bench faced east, not west, so instead of watching the fiery exuberant swirls of red and gold over the bay, my view was one of an impending darkness extending farther than I could see. The blue of the clear sky slowly deepened, the stars came into focus.
As I sat, I could sense the earth spinning in space, the planet’s face – and ours – turned once a day toward the vastness of space. We look out into the universe each night whether we wish it or not. It reminded me of when Chris was young and wanted to be certain of my full attention. He would take my face in his hands and turn it toward his.
Does God turn us to face the immense once each day so that we will have to look into the depths of eternity? Did He touch the earth and set it spinning like a top so that we must see where we came from, where we are going? To be assured of my full attention? What does He want me to see?
Suddenly the sunset feels like a distractingly noisy party, the rise of the night, like walking out the door into a quiet and still street, where you can hear the cicadas and the breeze in the trees. In his commentary on the translation of Psalm 42, Biblical scholar Robert Alter notes that while this verset is often read as our response to God for His goodness, our song to Him in the night, the Hebrew implies that God also sings to us in the night. What do I hear in the quiet streets of night, where God sings to me?
In the stars whose light is so strong we can see it at inconceivable distances, I hear of my powerlessness and God’s strength. No light that I can kindle will ever compare. There is a taste of eternity in these photons first sent streaking across the universe years ago that touch me only now. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. I feel God’s timeless hands on my face, seeking my attention, seeking me.
I wonder if this is what God wants to sing to me this night, of a poverty of spirit, of an emptiness into which he can set His works afire? Is this the place that Johannes Baptist Metz calls “the meeting point of heaven and earth, the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other, the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence?”
In my world, night is perhaps more of a place, and less of a time. I could back away from that spot on the edge of the night where I could begin to see and hear and touch my poverty in the face of God’s infinite richness by flipping on the light, or by walking back into the house. What do I risk by staying?
An emptiness into which God can set His works aflame in me, like the stars of the sky? Will I go?
May God shield me;
May God fill me;
May God keep me;
May God watch me;
May God bring me this night to the nearness of His love…the peace of all peace be mine this night in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
– Closing prayer for St. Patrick’s Compline, Celtic Daily Prayer
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.