[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1612613764″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ZdW2DO8-L._SL160_.jpg” width=”104″]Page 2: Kenneth Peterson – Prayer as Night Falls
Yet even if we do manage to make time for Compline, it strikes me as possible (and perhaps even likely) that in our hyper-individualistic world Compline may evolve from what originally was a predominantly communal undertaking to one that is primarily experienced in solitary isolation. This would be a tragedy, because the relational nature of the service is a key component of unlocking its theological riches. As I read Prayer as Night Falls, I could not help but reflect back upon my own experiences celebrating Compline in community. For example, as I have chanted the office with Benedictine monks in the spacious and imposing Basilica at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. I have been filled with awe for God and a profound cognizance of the connectedness of God’s people across the ages and eras. In contrast, as I have recited Compline in spare, quiet rooms with small groups of Lutheran pastors at Synodical clergy gatherings, I have felt an intimate closeness with those dear colleagues, especially at the beginning of the liturgy as we acknowledge our need for God’s forgiveness and hear the assurance of God’s pardon. My communal Compline experiences are mirrored by those shared by Peterson in his book, and hint at the sort of profoundly moving and relational worship experience that Compline invokes when prayed alongside others. Technology, however, might be a means of overcoming our contemporary tendency toward isolation. For example, the prayer office iPad app published by www.divineoffice.org allows one to access a graphic of a globe that, with a dot of light, shows the general location of each person who is currently praying an office. It is a welcome reminder of community in an otherwise solitary undertaking. Equally promising is an experiment being conducted by a number of students at and alumni of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, who are using Google Hangouts to form an online Compline praying community that enables users to hear and see one another in real-time, thereby overcoming the hurdle of distance. (The organizer’s blog, available here, contains helpful hints on best practices for forming an online Compline community.)
Prayer as Night Falls will likely remain on your bookshelf long after you have finished it because of the wealth of resources Peterson has packed into the appendices, including a model Office of Compline and a written guide to the musical examples available at the companion website. He has also included an excellent list of print and online resources for praying Compline and digging more deeply into the history and practice of the office. Those resources are very helpfully organized by denomination. Again, given that Peterson’s experience has been solidly rooted in the Western tradition, the Eastern Orthodox resources are slim. Moreover, as smartphones and tablets have become more prevalent, prayer apps have skyrocketed in popularity but are missing from his lists and should be referenced in a future edition of the book.
I have long appreciated the sturdiness and aesthetic appeal of Paraclete Press publications, and Prayer as Night Falls is no exception. But don’t simply judge this book by its handsome cover. Kenneth Peterson has written a delightful, revealing and engaging book about a subject that in less capable hands could have easily become tedious and boring. Prayer as Night Falls is a book saturated with authentic affection both for the service of Compline and the people with whom Peterson has celebrated it. It is truly a love story, one that Peterson graciously invites his readers to join.
Scott E. Schul is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and serves St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, where he resides with his wife Linda and children Annika and Emilio. He is a singer and multi-instrumentalist and enjoys theology, history and writing. In addition to his pastorate, Scott is the Vice Chair of the Policy Council of Lutheran Advocacy Ministries of Pennsylvania and serves as a volunteer fireman with Station 80, the “Fightin’ Farmers” of Martinsburg.