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Night is the ideal time to worship and contemplate God

      The night speaks, and I listen. The older I grow the more important are the pre-dawn hours. “She walks in beauty like the night.” Lord Byron speaks well of God, even if his intentions were otherwise.

      I now rise at the hour I once retired. God delights in this flip flop, I imagine. I like to think that rising before dawn to worship and contemplate God is the beginning of wisdom, but I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s simple biology, yet another sign that the grasp of the grave is growing tighter, hence, God’s delight. “See, mortal, what thou becom’st without me!” or some such requital.

      You cannot feign praise at three o’clock in the morning. The silence and the dark creep in on you and squeeze out every ounce of pretense. In daylight you can misdirect and obfuscate. Sunshine lends itself to sleight of hand.

      The pre-dawn hours? You stand before God as you truly are, and not even the darkness can hide you.

      Scripture is more sharp when prayed in the wee small hours of the morning, and louder, too. Doubt that? Read Jeremiah 7:1-20 at three o’clock in the afternoon, and then give it a go at 3 a.m. Brutal. Or read Jesus’ Passion in John’s Gospel in the dead of night, which is far more powerful than its recitation at Friday of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, at least for me.

      The flip-side of that, though, is the softness. When the world is still and quiet, and you’re alone with your brew and bible, and your heart is open and ready, God’s kiss is sweet and soft, just like that first kiss from your spouse in the morning, or just like snuggling up against her and feeling her warmth. That sensation is absent in the daylight hours. The ambience of day is more matter-of-fact, more conducive to commerce and trade, and that colors your perception.

      But then a strange thing happens, the night slips away. The process is imperceptible. One moment you are lost in Scripture and prayer and wonder and awe, and the next moment you glance out the window, and light is crawling in.

      You kill the desk lamp, and you see the first fingers of red scratch against the sky. And gradually, oh so gradually, that red turns orange and then pink and then purple and suddenly all that had been mute and shadow becomes clear and audible.

      And it’s all over. What happened to time? It flew by in an instant, and now it’s gone. St. Augustine asked “How can anything which does not exist be either long or short? For the past is no more and the future is not yet.” So what exactly was that period of time that I experienced?

      Reality, or what we call reality, now steps forth demanding attention. Business must be transpired. Food must be prepared. Meetings must be endured. And as that meeting drones on, and as you slice those carrots, and as you seal that deal, way back in the fog of your memory, you see and hear and feel where you were well before the sun rose, when time was seemingly suspended. You wish you were there. And you ache to return to that place and that time and say along with William Wordsworth, “A meditation rose in me that night.”

      “On you I muse through the night,” says the psalmist. The key word is “muse.” In daytime we desire clarity and precision. But night demands ambiguity and fusion. That’s why Shakespeare has Puck say, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “If we shadows have offended/Think but this, and all is mended/That you have but slumbered here/While these visions did appear.”

      “Muse” and “visions” are the domain of the night, and that is exactly why night is so conducive to prayer - the two go hand-in-hand. That is why we dream of going back to the night, because what we believed to be real during the day is shown to be mere shadows. What is ultimately real is the musing over God in the dead of night.

      The night will come again. The prayers will spill forth. The wonder and awe will return. And as you gather with your family at Thanksgiving, don’t forget to thank the Good Lord for the gift of prayer and of night.

      Happy Thanksgiving, Church of Gary.

     Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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