Sitting in a Dark Church Late at Night
"When you really look for me, you will see me instantly - you will find me in the tiniest house of time"
One of my favorite childhood memories is sitting in a dark church, late at night, with my dad.
The spiritual community I grew up in had a rich tradition of contemplative services and seasonal devotions. During these seasonal periods of renewal that typically lasted from one to three days, parishioners were invited to deepen their spiritual practice and reflection. In order to help people achieve this, the church was left open 24 hours a day. Folks were invited to simply drop by the church during a time when they might not ordinarily go such as early in the morning before work, perhaps for a few minutes during lunchtime, or maybe late after work or even in the middle of the night. We were encouraged to see these visits more like an impromptu visit to a peaceful, nourishing friend rather than a dutiful task. It was a wonderful opportunity to weave a sense of being at peace and quietness throughout more of the fabric of ordinary life. The emphasis of these visits was not on how long they lasted, but rather on just sitting quietly and being present.
For me, the fall season has always particularly encouraged reflection. The long afternoon shadows and early sunsets, the damp, fragrant leaves on the ground and the noticeably cooler air on the skin are primal invitations to "go-inside" in every way.
During fall devotions, my dad would sometimes take me to church with him after his 3 to 11pm shift at the mill. Since it was almost midnight, we were often the only ones there as we slipped side by side onto the smooth, cool wooden benches. The surrounding stained-glass windows that told brightly illuminated stories by day were now -- in their muted night tones -- inviting all attention to stay within. I remember us just sitting in the soft light of dozens of colored devotional candles that radiated from the altar. Sometimes I said "word" prayers, but more often I simply enjoyed how peaceful and safe it felt to just be there.
There we were in the darkened church -- somewhere deep inside of seasonal time, sitting together moment to moment outside of clock-time. It seemed a little amazing to have this wonder-ful experience whose positive value could never be measured by its efficiency or outward productivity. But the unspoken value was always certain, and I could sense it in softening of my mind and the opening of my heart.
I am grateful for those experiences that -- so early in my life -- introduced me to the way of silence and taught me the value of meditative sitting and being present. And now, when life starts feeling too hectic, I draw comfort from a contemplative practice that resonates with a sense of those peaceful fall nights long ago. At it's best, mindful, contemplative living provides a break from a world that relentlessly runs according to the gospel of clock-time. The meditative way always reminds me that what is most precious in life can never be measured by a clock. ©