“…And I Will Give You Rest…”

Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you. The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. In your name we pray. Amen. -Compline Prayer from New Zealand

This is a night-time prayer, a bed time prayer. I offer it to you as something that’s good for any of our souls, wherever we are, whatever is going on.

It’s one of these prayer you can keep in your pocket, keep at your bedside, keep returning to each night, no matter what is going on, no matter what the day brought, or what the night might bring.

This prayer sums up the wisdom that a wise person once tried to impart to me. Sister Peggy O’Neil – a nun from New Jersey – daughter of a union longshoreman. She got the call to become a nun, joined an order, she taught theology for years at a catholic college – she’s as smart as she is tough, and she’s as tough as she is good-hearted and she is as good-hearted as she is near to God, in a very real way… something of a mystic, but a mystic with her feet on the ground.

She was middle aged when the spirit seized her again and took her out of the classroom and into Suchitoto, El Salvador. She’s been serving there for decades. She’s in her eighties now, and still full of life and passion and grit and grace.

Suchitoto is her home. She’s been the village pastor there – basically – for a long time … which includes the years of civil war in the 80s. Suchitoto was one of the epicenters. The civil war: very repressive government, a resistance that grew to be an armed guerilla campaign, the army responding with horrific violence, (aided by the U.S., by the way), secret death squads… Peace was brokered in the early 90s.

In Suchitoto, you can still see bullet holes in the bricks. And the memories stay close. It’s a beautiful town, brightly painted old colonial homes nestled in the mountains.

Sister Peggy is part of an extraordinary generation of religious leaders in El Salvador – lay people, clergy – who where in and of and by and for those who are most poor and precarious. Many of these folks did not survive the 80s because the Government death squads targeted them. They were seen as a danger even though they stayed out of the fighting. Very courageous, Christ-like people. (If you haven’t seen the movie Romero, you should.)

Sister Peggy survived. So she has been able to walk with her community there in Suchitoto through the war and into life after war.

As a community you ask, How do we grieve? How do we survive? How do we thrive now? Where is our strength? Where is our resilience? How do we raise the next generation? How do we resist the ways that catastrophic violence and poverty continues to incubate violence? What does soul survival look like? Soul survival … that’s why I’m telling this story by way of teaching about prayer.

Sister Peggy is a bright soul. Clean, clear – completely herself, as a child of God – she’s brusk and funny and she speaks Spanish with a terrible gringo accent, still after all these years … and everyone she meets, she looks into them and sees a child of God.

I had the opportunity to spend a little time with her. And I asked her how she kept her soul healthy, given all the things she’s been through.

She first said, “Well, I just look to the mothers and grandmothers around me and their strength through all that they go through. What I deal with is nothing. They’re the one’s you should be talking to.”

I said, “Okay, yes, I’ll do that. But what do you do?”

“Well, it was easier when I lived with other Sisters. We would always talk at night about the day and then pray together. Now I live alone, but I still pray the same way.”

But before I share that with you, let me first say that I did do what she told me, I did talk with the mothers and the grandmothers about this. And they told me basically the same thing. And the heart of it I hear in the wisdom of folks I encounter everywhere, from all walks of life, who are people of clear conscience and stout hearts who know how to make it through tough times.

And that includes you all.

Our community here, our church family, has been hit with a lot of loss the past two years. A lot of dear people have passed on from this life, and returned to God.

The heart of our prayer life is what can keep us rooted to the bigger picture. It’s what allows us to feel fully our sadness and gratitude and anger and joy and vitality, while knowing to Whom we all ultimately belong. I know that you all pretty much already know what I’m about to say. It’s just good to be sure we’re reminding ourselves every now and again of a good way to pray.

“When I pray, every night,” Sister Peggy told me, “I give everything back to God. Then I give myself back to God. I stand before my Creator and I allow everything that happened during the day to return to God. It is all in your hands, my God. I did what I can do, it is something, little that I am, the rest is in your hands. Here are the people I care for. Here is what I’m worried about. Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s what I’ve left undone. It’s all out of my hands. It’s all in Your hands. Tomorrow please guide me in what to do next. If there’s harm I’ve done, here it is. God, I ask for your grace. If there’s harm done to me, here it is, God. God, I ask for your care for me. Thank you. I am yours. You are the Source of my life. I return myself to You. I surrender, I give up control, and return to the depths of God’s great being. And find my rest.” Amen.

This is a good way to pray, whatever our walk is, whatever God has called us to, whatever this world has brought us, whatever gifts we enjoy, whatever burdens we carry. This daily surrender is a good way. It’s enough.

It takes practice. It may be hard to fully let go. It may be hard to fully feel the reality of God’s tremendous grace. But it’s enough to just keep coming back to it. As the Apostle Paul teaches us, in our weakness the Holy Spirit helps us to pray. We don’t need to be “good” at it.

I hope that this night-time prayer from New Zealand is helpful to you in your prayer life. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a prayer that says all there is to say and carries a helpful spirit. So it’s good to carry around with us.

“Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who labor and are heavily burdened. I will give you rest.” We can take our cares off our shoulders and give them over, and rest. Then when we arise again, refreshed, we have the buoyancy of spirit to take an a different yoke, the Christ yoke, The way of one who is gentle and humble, who is wise and bold and full of life … A yoke that is easy a burden that is light. We can delight in our true natures… Because it is from light that we have come. And it is to light we shall return. Thanks be to God.

(Delivered July 30, 2017, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg

Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Romans 8:26-27, 35, 38-39 So, also, the Spirit supports us in our weakness. We do not even know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit itself pleads for us in sighs too deep for words. Yet the One who searches all our hearts knows what the Spirit’s meaning is, because the pleadings of the Spirit for Christ’s people are in accordance with God’s will. What is there to separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or difficulty, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or the sword? I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor archangels, nor the present, nor the future, nor any powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


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