When I was a teenager attending EYC and Diocesan youth events, we often used An Order for Compline from the Book of Common Prayer (page 127) in the evenings before ending the meeting or evening. It quickly became one of my favorite services.
Fast forward some 25 plus years and one of the habits we have at our house is praying the service of Compline most evenings. At Ivee’s suggestion (and insistence) we began this habit with our family back in seminary when Norah Grace was still very young. We have been “on again, off again" with this habit over the years, and to tell you the truth I don’t know why. When we are “off again” I truly miss it.
The poetic prayers and intentional ending of the day seem to always say just the right thing after having lived life to its fullest, however it has occurred, each day. One of my favorite prayers from the service is this:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
We also “do” Compline at the beginning of each of our Vestry meetings. A few months ago a vestry member raised the question: “Why shield the joyous?” As I understood the question it had to do with wondering why “the joyous” would need shielding as they are already ripe with joy and presumably God’s love and hope. It’s a good question. And the person is not alone in their wondering about it.
All that precedes this phrase is fairly easy to perceive why we would pray for folks in these circumstances. Who doesn’t think that the sick, the dying, the weary, and those who are saddened by the trials of this life want and need God’s watchful eye, compassionate love, and tender mercy? So yes, why “shield the joyous?”
Think for a moment about those you know who are experiencing profound joy in their lives. Think about times that you have experienced this same type of joy. How good it is. Now think about how often these experiences happen. Think about how long that joy lasts. I can say that it is not nearly often enough or long-lasting enough. I want, I need them to come more often and last hours not minutes, weeks nor days. How about you?
Those seemingly fleeting moments of joy and happiness are holy moments just as are the moments of deep suffering and need. Sometimes all of the weight of the not so joyous moments suppress the joyful ones - or at least shorten them. The vacation, the wonderful night out, time spent with loved ones, surprises that put smiles on our faces.
Yes, Lord shield THOSE moments (especially those teaching my children about you, God). They give us hope. They give us peace. They show forth your promise in this world; “All for your love’s sake. Amen.”