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VIGILS
January 1, 2004
 
I awoke at 11:47. Just a few more minutes until the 2004. I lay there thinking about a million people in Times Square, several thousand at the Cathedral, all the people in all the restaurants. I counted away the minutes. Midnight came and went. No sirens. Good.

4am. BBC would surely know if anything terrible had happened. Nothing in New York. Nothing in London. A quiet night in Iraq. The miraculous rescue of a young man from the debris of the earthquake in Iran -- he suffered a broken pelvis, nothing more. No trouble in Mexico or Peru. Nothing to report in North Korea or Afghanistan. All quiet in Ireland. Nothing in Brazil, except that people dress in white and stand by the sea, casting white blossoms into the waves.

But it was in Jakarta that the bombing took place. I hadn't even thought of Jakarta. Americans never think of Jakarta. A suicide bombing -- by Muslims in a Muslim country. Meant for us, somehow, but killing only other Muslims. We are not there.

The world is large and small at the same time. Wrapped in unbelievable luxury by the standards of almost everyone else in it, I lie by the radio and strive to bring it into my prayers. But I am never in the right place at the right time. Those things I fear do not come to pass: it is the things I do not fear, the things that don't even occur to me, that carry death and danger over the airwaves.

A friend emails. The morning prayer group is a good thing, but perhaps we also need a praying community for those who are awake in the wee hours, who could put those hours to use in prayer. What a good idea. I search my imagination for a suitable name. "Vigils," we could call it. At one time, monastics prayed throughout the night at regular intervals. Not many do that today. Vigils, they were called, part of an overarching vigil from sundown to sunup. They never got more than three or four hours sleep at any one time.

Many keep an inadvertent vigil like mine, snapping awake with worries. Wondering when the other shoe will drop, and where. Worrying, as if our worry could somehow keep tragedy at bay. As if we could heal things by knowing about them. And others keep a vigil simply by virtue of not needing as much sleep as they used to need. I AM 87 AND WOULD WELCOME YOUR THOUGHTS ON USING THE LONG NIGHT WATCHES TO BETTER USE, writes my friend, in nice large capital letters.

And perhaps we can -- not just by knowing, but by praying. What difference does it make? What happens because we wake in the dead of night and pray, that wouldn't happen otherwise? Beats me. But prayer is a beginning of healing, I do know that. And prayer bring me closer to strangers, seats us next to each other in the household of God, I know that, too. And prayer with others -- even over the ether -- creates community unimagined by those who have never tried it. More than we expected.

Because we can't expect everything that will come to be. The bad and the good, we cannot expect. There will always be surprises.

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Interested in Vigils? You need to be a person who is up in the wee hours sometimes, although which wee hours is up to you. Email me if you're one of those night owls, and we'll see what we can put together.
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