A Prayer Before Sleep: ‘What Has Not Been Done’

Ya Ya Napping

Ya Ya Napping (Photo credit: Frank Peters)

If you want to sleep as well as this panda (though perhaps on a comfier pillow), read on.

Good ‘sleep hygiene‘ includes having a bedtime routine that helps get your body and mind ready to sleep.

As part of the rhythm of the day, Christians have traditionally prayed before bed. Maybe your Grandma taught you the Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild prayer, or maybe you meditate cross-legged on the floor, or maybe you fall into bed, cream-crackered, about half an hour past your bedtime.

The ‘examen‘ is an individual spiritual practice done before bed that I recommend for anyone wanting to start a practice of praying before sleep, but for this post, I’m inspired by the daily office of Compline. It’s the corporate version of last-thing-at-night prayer in religious communities (gregorian plainchant, anyone?) and in that tradition comes this prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa.

It’s one of my very favourite prayers, and one of the most well-known of the original prayers from this collection. But it nearly wasn’t in the prayer book.

Rev Bosco Peters recalls the story this way:

Rev. John Williamson was the secretary of the Provincial Commission on Prayer Book Revision when it concluded its work in 1987. He has since died. He was a humble, talented priest, serving the commission and the church. The commission had been meeting for its very last meeting to prepare to send the text off for its debate at General Synod. They asked John to lead the final time of prayer together.

He wrote the above prayer and used it at that service. Read the prayer again, and you can hear echoes of how the commission felt after its years of intense work. After the time of prayer one of the commission members said it should go into the Prayer Book. The others agreed, and the prayer had to be retrieved from the waste paper basket where John, humble as ever, had tossed it after leading that office.

[Read more at Liturgy.]

The resulting short prayer of reflection on the day past and the day to come made its way into the finished version as part of a full liturgy of ‘Night Prayer’ and is now prayed around the world.

A study group I led in my first year as a pastor, years ago, finished our discussions each week by praying through the whole liturgy, but this one prayer was the most popular part by far. We used to have one person read it aloud with a good pause between each stanza.

If you are replaying the day’s frustrations or regrets on a loop, or lying in bed worrying about tomorrow’s to do list, some of these lines might be powerfully helpful:

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 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.

One of my very favourite prayers: Night Prayer - A New Zealand Prayer Book | Sacraparental.com

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