“Treasures of Darkness” illustration by Gary Gaede

Advent Day 18 – Wednesday, December 19

Each weeknight in Lent, at nine o’clock, my seminary friends and classmates gathered around the outdoor labyrinth, lit by the light of a single streetlamp, to pray Compline or Night Prayer. We stood in a close circle, shoulder to shoulder, to pray, listen, confess our sins, forgive one another, and sing in the dark.

The words and tunes sunk deep into my bones and I fell in love.

As I reflect on this ritual, I’m trying to piece together why it meant so much to me. I think an important part of it was that I loved those people and that we had shared so much of life together. I liked that it was just us and our voices, nothing else. I appreciated that the music was meant to be sung easily without accompaniment.

And then, there was the dark. I think the dark gave us permission not to worry about what we wore or what we looked like or doing it perfectly, which seemed important when everything else was open to critique and a letter-grade. Even though the small group singing without instruments left our voices raw and exposed, in the dark, no one knew who hit the note wrong, and it didn’t matter.

Though I’ve done Compline in other places with other groups, I have found that it has been impossible to replicate the experience. But still, when I sing the songs and pray those prayers, my heart swells and I cannot help but remember those sacred nights.

Let’s pray: O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (ELW, page 328, Night Prayer)

—Pr. Sami Johnson