Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren

Summary: Discussion of grief and the spiritual life framed with the Compline prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. 

I am a big fan of the book of common prayer. There are many different books of common prayer, and I am not particularly devoted to one or another, but I am devoted to the value of prayers being common, of structured prayer (especially when prayer is hard), and the routine of prayer and scripture that takes you through both the liturgical year and the lectionary. I do not use the BCP every day, but I do most days. When I first started using BCP, I bought a kindle book with all the scripture inline so that there was no flipping, based on the 1979 Episcopal BCP. But the compiler of those dated kindle versions stopped producing them after a couple of years, and I bounced around for a while. I stumbled on a podcast of the 1928 BCP, which randomly was taken over by a Facebook friend and so I spent a year or two primarily listening to podcasts of the service. More recently, I have been using the 2019 ACNA BCP and creating a PDF of the morning service and sending it to my Supernote A5X, and that works really well both for a full service with everything nicely laid out and a larger format than a kindle. And there is a podcast of the same service, so I sometimes will listen along or listen instead of reading.

I was somewhat reluctant to pick up Prayer in the Night. I had read Tish Harrison Warren’s earlier Liturgy of the Ordinary, and while I did not dislike the book, it was so strongly hyped that by the time I got around to reading it, there was no way for the book to have lived up to the recommendations. And Prayer in the Night, if anything, has received even more positive press. I don’t think I have seen a single negative review or post about it. I probably would not have read it if it were not part of the Renovaré book club. I have participated in the book club for the past couple of years, so I picked up Prayer in the Night.

Prayer in the Night is framed around the compline prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Part of what I love about books of common prayer is the prayers of history that can give words to us when we find it hard to pray ourselves. The compline prayer is just one, very good, example of prayers that are not just beautiful, but prayers that express reality in a way that is hard to match. The book is structured as a phrase by phrase exploration of the prayer. But that is largely a framing for the book to discuss grief and the Christian life. Grief is something that all of us will become acquainted with over our lifetime, and I think it is something that most of us have become acquainted with this past year. In the years before Rev Warren (she is an Anglican priest) wrote this book, she suffered two miscarriages, a cross country move, and her father’s death. Grief impacts us differently at different times, but for Warren, it led to many sleepless nights of doomscrolling and tv watching and seeking distraction from the pain of loss.

Part of what is common with grief is the why of it. There is no good solution to the problem of evil except that God is with us in that grief or pain. That is not always enough. But part of what I appreciate about Warren’s writing is that she is exploring, but she does not pretend that there are easy solutions to difficult problems. And the problems of death and pain and grief and evil are some of the most complicated, on-going problems of the Christian life.

Prayer in the Night is a beautifully written book. Her writing is lyrical and deep, accessible and clear. The exploration of ideas through personal narrative has limitations. No one can relate to all aspects, and no person can universalize to all areas of life because we are simply limited creatures. But there is real wisdom and honest grappling that I think many would benefit from. There are many good books on grief. Grief is universal, and I think it is helpful to pick up a couple of books on grief when we are not grieving because it is just a matter of when, not if, we will have reason to grieve.

Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audiobook 

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