Tuesday, May 11, 2010


On Tuesdays and sometimes Thursdays or Fridays, I get up before daylight and prepare to go out to St. Mary’s Convent at Sewanee for Morning Prayer and Eucharist at 7 a.m. I’m not a happy early riser and never have been. To me, 6:30 a.m. is a civilized time to greet the morning. So those mornings when I follow the discipline I’ve set for myself to attend early services a few times a week, I linger over a cup of coffee and grouse a little about “a retired person having to put on street clothes and leave the house before the sun rises.”

This morning was no exception, and in the darkness, I thought of a passage from FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT by Evelyn Underhill, my favorite spiritual writer. In my morning stupor, I couldn’t recall the words and began a frantic search throughout the semi-dark house for the exact passage in this book that my Godmother Dora gave to me on the occasion of my first visit with her in 1963. I remember her sitting in the middle of her high tester bed and reading passages aloud to me from this Anglican mystic and the excitement the writer engendered in me. The binding on my FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT is coming away from the spine and pages are colorful with aqua and yellow marks from highlighters and covered with asterisks, parentheses, and other interesting margin notes. Reading these pages at 5:30 a.m. lifted my pre-dawn dim-wittedness. I finally found the passage in which Underhill tells us that there is always a night shift and sooner or later we are put on it. She refers to the praying we’re to do during the spiritual night, which includes early morning before first light.

“When you have got to pray in mental dark and cold, think of the Benedictines, Carthusians, Trappists, Poor Clares, weary, sleepy, chilly, but faithfully rising in the dark with no incentive but obedience,” Evelyn writes. “Rising not to grouse about it (ouch) but to sing Matins and Lauds, the Church’s song of… adoration, the song of the birds before dawn. Lift up your hands in the dark sanctuary of your soul when you’re tempted to wonder what is the good of it all, and praise…and the Lord who made heaven and earth will send you blessing…”

The passage stayed with me on the short trip to the convent and throughout the Eucharist while rain pinged on the roof of the chapel and wind at the bluff’s edge roared under the eaves. By the time the service ended and we went into the refectory to eat biscuits, scrambled eggs, coffee cake, jam, tea, coffee, and juice, I was wholly awake and the sun had come out. I was glad that I had risen in the darkness to enter into the spiritual rhythm of the morning…yet I confess that I know I’m not suited to the life of the Sisters because I couldn’t heed this pre-dawn reveille daily.

On this day, Rogation Day, I thought mightily about the farmers who rise before dawn and begin their work in the fields, not to mention newspaper carriers, donut shop owners, garbage collectors, and people who must commute miles to reach their businesses. I admitted to myself that I was quite happy to be a retired person looking forward to rising at 7 a.m. tomorrow, leaving the night shift to the Benedictines, Carthusians, and the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent… all those who have better quality of will than this not-so-early riser!

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