My alarm goes off at 3:00 AM. I wake, close my eyes again a moment, then get up lest I sleep in and miss the last Vigils of my retreat here at Mepkin Abbey. I dress without showering, brush my teeth and dab my wild hair with a bit of water, put on cap and windbreaker and step into the cool outside.
The moon is round and full as I walk toward the main buildings. Stars shine clearly and I whisper “How excellent in all the earth is thy name, O Lord…”
A brief stop in the dining room for a half-cup of good hot coffee with honey, and then on to the white Cistercian chapel, which I left only six hours ago. Joining a handful of others, I sit in my stall, waiting. Waiting is a natural part of our rhythm of life here – waiting for prayers, for meals, for dismissal after meals. When I have found my feet hurrying to prayers, something inside of me reins me in, slows me down. So we wait. A few monks in white robes and cowls filter in.
Precisely at 3:20 a bell rings. We stand, turn, and face the altar. We bow (profoundly, as we’ve been instructed). One of the monks invokes God’s blessing.
A single note sounds on the organ. The prayer leader begins “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who minister by night in the house of the Lord.”
Someone has prepared our psalters, marked the night readings with ribbons to guide us. The first reading is Psalm 134, our psalm for each morning this week. We each have our own beautiful copy on the stand in front of us, written out in calligraphy and printed at Genesee Abbey.
After the reading, we bow deeply and sing the Gloria, as we do after each psalm and hymn. Thus each closes with “World without end.” I am comforted to participate in an ongoing chorus of worship, flowing through ages past and years to come. I am part of something bigger, wider, deeper, than my own individual experience.
From The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, 2008: Inter-Varsity Press)
Photo cred: mepkinabbey.org