Scripture Focus: Job 38.1-3
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Reflection: On Keeping Vigil
By John Tillman
In her insightful article on the practice of keeping vigil during Lent, Heather Hughes comments on an observation made by Thomas Merton while he was keeping watch for wildfires:
“In a haunting meditation on his experience of watching for wildfires one hot summer night in the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton makes the link between the enhanced sensory awareness of those on vigil and their enhanced spiritual awareness:
‘The fire watch is an examination of conscience in which your task as watchman suddenly appears in its true light: a pretext devised by God to isolate you, and to search your soul with lamps and questions, in the heart of darkness.’
Merton is confronted with the immediacy of God’s transcendent mystery; the darkness and isolation of his vigil provide an experience much like Job’s encounter with God’s voice in the whirlwind:
‘God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness, with You it is always the same thing! Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer! I have prayed to you in the daytime with thoughts and reasons, and in the nighttime You have confronted me, scattering thought and reason. I have come to You in the morning with light and with desires, and You have descended upon me, with great gentleness, with most forbearing silence, in this inexplicable night, dispersing light, defeating all desire.’
In his wakefulness Merton perceives more of the world around him, but also the quality of his own soul. Like Job, he learns that his questions, doubts, and accusations do not begin to confront the unfathomable enormity of God’s reality.
This is what we hope to accomplish through the spiritual discipline of keeping vigil: an encounter with the living God, an increased sensitivity to his presence in our lives and in the world, and a better understanding of who we are in light of this.”
As Hughes suggests, may we keep vigil during this season of Lent. If not the literal meaning of vigil—praying the hours at midnight—may we keep a mindfulness of God’s presence with us in not only the light moments of life, but in the darkness. For if joy is to come in the morning, first we must sit through the dark.
*Quotations condensed from “Keeping Vigil” by Heather Hughes.
Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Saviour, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. — Psalm 88.1-2
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