Usually, we say compline together each evening. And most evenings we follow basic form set out for the office, the way the nuns sing it at Minster Abbey. We have our own prayer that stands in for the hymn, one the children learned at school and like to say.
I thought as our 9-year old is about to make his first confession, that we might talk a little bit more about the examination of conscience that normally occurs just at the beginning of Compline. So last night I did. We followed our brief conversation with the confiteor, which we don’t often say. Afterward, my 9-year-old observed that the language includes asking ‘brothers and sisters’ to pray for us. This sparked a further conversation about the relationship between members of the body of Christ: although in the context of our family, I am the mother and they the children, in the family of God, we are all brothers and sisters.
Suddenly they were all attentive. Not only that, I said (taking advantage of this miraculously teachable moment): you have a very special place within the body of Christ, as children. When Jesus’ disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest, he put a child in the midst of them, and told them that unless they became like little children, they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. Amazement. We talked a little bit about what it was about children that was so important to Jesus. Not their crazy antics (mine are especially prone), but some key qualities. The one we spoke about was a capacity for awe and wonder. My 9-year-old interjected something about a really huge snake. Exactly! Awe and wonder. Of course there are other things, but the teachable moment is just that, at least with my children: a moment.
After that we veered off course slightly, according to the rubrics. We each said a ‘God bless’ or a ‘thank you, God’ and said a Hail Mary, at the 4-year-old’s request. Then we had the nunc dimittis and final prayer. As I prepared to play the Alma redemptoris mater (we like the Marian antiphon for the season), I realized there was a problem. Just as I was about to be frustrated, one suggested (again the 9-year-old) that we simply stand around the prayer table and look at the candles. So we did. It was the most beautiful silence I have ever experienced. It was not only quiet, but peace.
Email presents a challenge. For me, at least, the decision about how to sign off became perplexing. To say ‘best’ or ‘best wishes’…nope, that’s not me. ‘Yours faithfully’–much more authentic, but rather formal. (I use it occasionally.) ‘Cheers’ makes me sound like I want to be British. I love Britain and my British husband, and all my lovely dual-citizen children. But I am an American, like it or not, and I’m not pretending to be otherwise. ‘Warm regards’ or ‘warmly’ does convey the sense of ‘I like you, and I am sending this email fondly’, though ‘fondly’ sounds creepy and won’t do at all. For fellow Christians, ‘yours in Christ’ might be a possibility. It works for plenty of other folks. But, again, it’s just not me.
For a long time I resisted ‘peace’. It’s over-used, and misused. Maybe it’s a bit cold or distant, or seems so. It shouldn’t. Ephesians 2 reminds us that ‘he is our peace.’ Not only that: peace is what I long for, my highest aspiration for myself and the world in which I live. ‘Be at peace with everyone,’ St Paul admonishes us. The most under-appreciated part of the Mass–or at least a contender–is the sharing of the peace. When we share peace, we share Christ. He is our peace. He is the one who brings peace, and when we live in him and he in us, we find peace. Our restless hearts are restless until we rest–peacefully–in him. And so I sign, ‘peace.’ It is the best thing I can wish for anyone to whom I am sending an email. It is a prayer for those email recipients who do not know Christ, and a prayer for this who do. I mean by it always, ‘peace be with you,’ and I could not say anything more sincerely or warmly.
Peace be with you.
Every once in a while, the children do wonderful things at Mass. Sometimes, of course, they do the sorts of things that make me want to tear my hair out, or–more likely–to alternate with my husband, so I can go without the children. But no. That’s not really the way forward, is it? So I remind and bribe and plead…and sometimes they are miraculously good, and amazing things happen.
Today it was Lucy’s turn to remind me of the truth. Not that she was especially well-behaved: she decided at one point that the reason everyone was standing was so that she could run noisily up and down the pew behind us… We (the four of us over the age of 8) had received communion and returned to our seats. Communion wasn’t over yet; people were still receiving. Lucy got a little wriggly and talkative, forgetting the ‘whispering voice’ we like to use at church. So I talked to her a bit (using my best whispering voice) about what was happening, trying to explain why she should be quiet just then. In the course of our conversation, I asked her what it was that the priest was giving to people. ‘Peace,’ she said. Of course: ‘He is our peace.’
Good thing I wasn’t there on my own. See what theological insight I would have missed?
Thinking about Elijah today: how does he know (in 1 Kings 18:41) that the rain is coming? (See thinking coram Deo for more on that.) I recongize that I am in a strangely quiet space: no blog posts, almost no tweets, hardly any writing even in my own journal–when pen and paper have so often been my tools for navigating difficult times. But the quiet isn’t peace–it’s like the eerie calm before the storm. I am just waiting to see whether this storm will be a violent thunderstorm or the soft summer rain.
All I really know about the future, really know, is that God is there. That has to be enough.