From The Attentive Life
Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid.
(Rainer Marie Rilke)
For darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Vigils is the womb of silence, the darkest hour.
In the cycle of hours, Vigils, also known as Matins, is the first prayer time of each day. At Mepkin Abbey by the Cooper River in South Carolina, where I first spent several days at a monastery, Vigils takes place at 3:20 a.m. The bending live-oak trees at Mepkin remind me of monks in their white habits, stooping a bit as they walk silently through the chilly night to the chapel.
There they chant psalms, bow in prayer, listen to Holy Scripture and sit in the silence of the church, where only candles push back the shadows of the night. As David Steindl-Rast explains in The Music of Silence:
The Hour of Vigils is also a symbol of the waking up we have to do in the midst of our lives. The kind of world in which we live is really a benighted world. This watching in the night and waiting for the light, this wakefulness, is a forceful reminder to wake up throughout the day from the world of sleep to another reality.
Vigils, then, is the hour that calls us to set aside time outside the practical demands of the day and to connect with that dark but graced-filled mystery in which we are immersed.
My own experiences during a retreat at Mepkin Abbey, and the 3 a.m. waking, have reminded me that my day and my life begin with God who remains the same, world without end.