Mystics have ears and hearts tuned to another world, that of the Divine. Amidst my busy modern life, I’ve tried to keep turning and tuning my heart to God. However, one practice that the Holy Spirit quickened off the pages of a book fifteen years ago changed my spiritual life forever: the night watch.
I was on a silent retreat, and my spiritual director had suggested I might look at a little book by Basil Pennington, Lessons from the Monastery That Touch Your Life. Many of the lessons were familiar to me after a decade of contemplative seeking. However, one little chapter described the night watch, something entirely new and intriguing to me. The only particular words from the book that I still remember are, “This became the sweetest time of day.” He was talking about the monks rising at 2:00 or 3:00 in the middle of the night to wait on God. I am not naturally a morning person. I love the morning from the warmth underneath my covers as I push the snooze button one more time. So, the idea of rising before dawn to wait in the cold dark of night was about as appealing as a freezing shower in winter. And I am naturally a busy, active person who crams all I can into each day of life, so going to bed early is a rarity, and simply sitting and waiting any time, much less in the wee hours of the morning, seems a bit of a waste. I’m not sure I had ever really watched the sun rise, except perhaps at the end of a long night of paper writing in college. But the Spirit struck deep in my soul with a challenge to test this strange offer of a sweet night watch.
I determined to rise early one morning and try this practice. For me 5:00 a.m. was plenty early, and Saturday was a day I would at least not fall asleep at work for having gotten up so early. I set my alarm, rose, got a cup of hot coffee, pulled on a heavy wool poncho, and sneaked out to my little front garden seat. I sat down and looked up into the night sky. There in front of me in the midst of the dark canvas was a huge full moon that gradually lowered in the black sky. I gasped in awe, though only later did I realize how rare it is to be at the right time and place for a full moon setting. As the darkness turned into day that first night-watch morning, a little bird flew close by, landed on the lowest branch of the nearest tree in front of me, and began to sing. I could almost hear God laughing with delight as he said, “If you get up to be with me, I will meet you in ways you never imagined.” God was so clear that I determined to make this a weekly discipline every Saturday morning.
I have not read or researched extensively about the night watch. But I have practiced it faithfully in my own modified way in the midst of an active professional and family life. And this has opened to me a greater experience of waiting, mysticism, and glory than anything else in my life. So, I write as a person of faith testifying about the power of applying a spiritual practice to my own life with God’s leading.