There is about a quarter-mile oval driveway in front of the Abbey. It’s a favorite walking spot for many retreatants, especially some of the (ahem) older ones due to its nice flat surface. It is also a favorite spot because you are far enough away from the Abbey that at least a softly spoken conversation is possible. While personal talks are possible, telecommunication is decidedly difficult. Fortunately, at the end of the driveway is a rather imposing hill (or knob, as it is known in Kentucky) atop which stands a tall pedestal with a statue of Saint Joseph. Usually a cell phone signal is attainable at some point up the hill.
Since Compline, held at 7:30pm, is followed by the Great Silence (no speaking until morning), this short time after dinner is valuable as an opportunity to a catch up with fellow retreatants and to make some tentative plans for the next day. Gradually, conversation ceases and the Abbey bells begin to ring marking 15 minutes past 7pm. Retreatants who are usually scattered all over the front of the oval driveway and grassy areas begin their deliberate walks back to the church.
Special booklets marked “Compline” are usually sitting on the table behind the area where we sit during the service. After picking up a booklet, I move to the right side (just a habit), bend at the waist and enter a row and take my seat. The monks usually enter the church one by one, arriving from various locations. A couple of minutes before 7:30pm, the Abbey bells peal as a reminder to those monks who have not yet entered the church. At 7:30pm promptly, Abbot Elias sharply raps a piece of wood at his seat and we all rise to begin the service.
Compline is one of my favorite services of the day. The lighting in the church provides a gentle mood. The words of the hymns are meaningful:
“Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That with thy gracious favor thou
Wouldst be our Guard and Keeper now.
From fears and terrors of the night
Defend us, Lord, by thy great might;
And when we close our eyes in sleep
Let hearts, with Christ, their vigil keep.
O Father, this we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
Who, with the Paraclete and thee,
Now lives and reigns eternally.”
Wow! It just occurred to me now as I typed this words for the first time ever, how strongly similar the words and intent are to the bedtime prayer my mother taught me and which we recited every night as she tucked me into bed:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
If I should die, before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I think I just figured out why Compline means so much to me.