Compline: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Confession: I’m a night owl. I can’t do mornings. And yet, there is a long tradition in the Church of beginning your day with devotional meditation with God. I’m working on it. But in the meantime, one of the great ironies is that few things can put a bigger dent in one’s devotional life than seminary. It changes the way you relate to the Scriptures, and how you fill up your time. It’s easy to see your school readings and such as de facto “devotional time” (when we all know it usually isn’t).
Especially those of that have midnight deadlines to turn things in, and morning classes, morning devotional time is really really hard. And yet, when we’re about to sleep is difficult because, well, we’re about to sleep.
So what to do?
I’ve found that I need two things: first, I need to do a lot of my devotional work at night., Second, due to how easy it is to sleep, I need something to guide my time of meditation, prayer, and Scripture reading. I can’t just grab it and go. I’ll end up asleep, for sure.
And so, I’ve taken to doing Compline devotions before I enter into my slumber. In the Church tradition of praying the hours of the day, “Compline” is the word used to describe that twilight space at the completion of the day, between evening and morning. Prayers and devotions for Compline are usually meant to be done right before a person (or couple) goes to sleep (perhaps even done in bed–that’s where I do them).
These devotions have helped mitigate my personal tendency to try and ignore the voices of both God and contemplation within my heart as I end my day. As a seminarian, I’ve found that the most important voice we need to hear, and the one that’s easiest to drown out during seminary, is the still small voice of your own soul as it communes with the Spirit. To sync up with the Spirit in us and not just out there is so essential to the emotional health of the seminarian.
These beautiful prayers help me to do this; they give me a space that forces me speak to and with God and cry for mercy. Check out this beautiful Compline prayer:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions only too well,
and my sin is ever before me.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
have mercy upon me.
It gives me a space to deal with those doubts that whisper to me when all else gets quiet in those darkened hours.
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment,
and light rises up in darkness for the godly:
Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties,
the grace to ask what you would have us to do,
that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,
and that in your light we may see light,
and in your straight path may not stumble;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It also offers two more future ministers especially need to cultivate in their souls: meditation on out day, and meditation on our mortality. Sleep being a picture of death, many of these prayers for Compline focus on death, silence, and the giving up one’s spirit to a Sovereign greater than oneself, with no guarantee of waking–a frightening reality of our sleeping which should shake any of us.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Alleluia, alleluia.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Alleluia, alleluia.
For you have redeemed me, Lord God of truth.
Alleluia, alleluia.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Alleluia, alleluia.
Keep me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.
And it gives me peace as I fall to sleep.
In peace we will lie down and sleep;
for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus,
for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
As the night watch looks for the morning,
so do we look for you, O Christ.
Come with the dawning of the day.
The Lord bless us and watch over us;
the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us;
the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace.
I encourage all of you to find some of your own prayers/devotions to gently send you into slumber. I promise you will be met by God’s Spirit and quieted in your soul.
As far as practicalities go, I use the “Open Prayer Book” Android app [download] while laying bed. This app pulls prayers from many different resources. You can “subscribe” to any prayers you want and even set reminders for the appropriate prayer to pop up at a time of your choosing.
The two sources for prayer I use are the Night Devotions from the ever-popular (and helpful) Mission St. Clare prayer site, and I use the Order for Night Prayer (Compline) from the Church of England’s Common Prayer website.
Have you ever used any outside resources for prayer right before bed? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?

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Written by paul-burkhart
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