Readings from the Longest Night Service
December 20, 2021
A Reading from Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen:
Imagine the words of God.
You are my Beloved. I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are min and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.
I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own, as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover, and your spouse…yes, even your child…wherever you are, I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.
A Reading from A Room Called Remember, by Frederick Buechner:
The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts . . . . We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find.
But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.
So much has happened to us all over the years. So much has happened within us and through us. We are to take time to remember what we can about it and what we dare. That's what entering the room means, I think. It means taking time to remember on purpose. It means not picking up a book for once, or turning on the TV, but letting the mind journey gravely, deliberately, back through the years that have gone by, but are not gone. It means a deeper, slower kind of remembering; it means remembering as a searching and finding. The room is there for all of us to enter if we choose to, and the process of entering it is not unlike the process of praying because praying too is a slow, grave journey—a search to find the truth of our own lives at their deepest and dearest, a search to understand, to hear and be heard.
“Nobody knows the trouble I've seen” goes the old spiritual, and of course nobody knows the trouble we have any of us seen—the hurt, the sadness, the bad mistakes, the crippling losses—but we know it. We are to remember it. And the happiness we have seen too—the precious times, the precious people, the moments in our lives when we were better than we know how to be. Nobody knows that either, but we know it. We are to remember it. And we will find, beyond any feelings of joy or regret that one by one the memories give rise to a profound and undergirding peace, a sense that in some unfathomable way all is well.
We have survived, you and I. Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering. After 20 years, 40 years, 60 years, or 80, we have made it to this year, this day. We needn't have made it. There were times when we never thought we would and nearly didn't. There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up.
To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me. But I didn’t. I have not given up. And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up. You also are survivors and are here. And what does that tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love, has kept our hearts alive.
A Reading from Night Visions, by Jan Richardson
Guardian of the seasons,
keeper of every time,
tune us so to your rhythms
that we may know
the occasion for stillness
and the moment for action
May we be so prepared
in our waiting
that when you prompt us
our hands may be your hands
and our purposes