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Prayer Upon Awakening
“The breezes at dawn
Have secrets to tell you;
Don’t go back to sleep.”
What force gently lifts back
night’s inky black gown
studded with shimmering stars,
where soot turns to umber,
seawater to crimson,
rose to saffron, and then
to that brilliant morning shade of blue,
spilling forth like the seven silk scarves of
Salome in a dance of revelation?
What is being awakened in you
in that threshold moment,
when a thousand black crows scatter to the west
to chase down the fleeing night,
when the souls of the dead
are said to recede with the evaporating starlight,
when the winds whisper
their secret dreams
for the day ahead?
Are you listening, in those first moments,
to the rustle of Eos’* wings rising in the sky
as she breaks through the fruitful darkness?
Carry all your sorrow from yesterday
in jars of dew, just like her tears over
a son’s broken body torn in two.
Sprinkle them, like holy water,
bathing the fields of possibility
and let your heart awaken once again.
*Eos is the Greek goddess of the dawn whose son Memnon was killed in battle
-Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
I am not an early riser by nature, but I do love the times when I am awake for the dawn. And so these winter days living at 53° latitude means that the sky does not even begin to get light until eight in the morning and the hour that follows is often a gorgeous display of pink clouds and golden light emerging. In the summer, the sky is only dark for a few short hours at night, and so this wide embrace of darkness is welcome to this winter-loving monk.
Most mornings I arise and begin the day with my yoga practice as a way of moving into the stillness of my body. Then I sit in the silence and witness this spectacle outside my window to prepare my heart for lectio divina. Morning prayer is an ancient monastic tradition. In one of my favorite books of all time, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast writes:
"The hours are seasons of the day, and they were originally understood in a mythical way. Earlier generations of our human race, not ruled by alarm clocks, saw the hours personified, encountered them as messengers of eternity in the natural flow of time growing, blossoming, bearing fruit. In the unfolding rhythm of everything that grows and changes on earth each hour had a character and presence infinitely richer and more complex than our sterile clock time."
He goes on to describe the Hours as "the inner structure for living consciously and responsively through the stages of the day" and describes time in this monastic perspective, as the opportunity for encounter. "We live in the now by attuning ourselves to the calls of each moment, listening and responding to what each hour, each situation, brings."
When I first read Brother David's book many years ago it transformed by relationship to the practice of praying the Hours. Suddenly I saw the poetry of them, the grace of honoring each moment's unique invitation, and the gift of welcoming in the energies of rising, fullness, falling, and emptiness as central to my experience of life, but also witnessed in the unfolding of each day. It has helped me to embrace the movements of my life and embrace the times of rest as fully as the times of energy,
I am savoring these morning times of witnessing the sun's rise in her low and gentle arc across the sky. I am listening into the question which morning asks: "What is awakening in you?" And I find myself in kinship with monks, who for hundreds of years have bowed down at this moment in gratitude for another day.
Arising with the dawn and attending to the slow emergence of light, is a beautiful practice for Advent. In these Advent days of waiting and holy anticipation, it is easy to sometimes fall asleep to the real depth and meaning of this sacred season. Beneath the shouts of advertisers and endless marketing and our own scurrying around to fulfill our sense of obligation, there is a quiet miracle happening. God is being birthed into the world again and again. And Advent reminds us this holy birthing is happening in each of us as well.
When Betsey Beckman and I led the Hildegard of Bingen pilgrimage in Germany last September, we began each day praying through our bodies with a musical version of Psalm 23 by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan called All of My Days. Betsey has created a video to guide you through the prayer. You can find it here, just be sure to scroll down the page to #3 Movement Prayer to find it. Let your body celebrate this hour of awakening!
If you are a writer, please consider submitting a guest post to our monk in the world series.
And consider whether you are feeling the call to join us for Coming Home to the Body (an online retreat for women) or Exile and Coming Home (an online retreat for men) in the new year! Both would make a meaningful Christmas gift, when so many of us have too much stuff already. Plus there are discounts when you register 2 or more people together!
With great and growing love,