It's cold outside, at last, and it's none too warm in here, either, necessitating my rooting around in a closet for my granddaughter's baggy-but-so-cozy hooded sweatsuit, in which I look a little like a crack dealer. The suit is grey, as is the sky and the road and the church across the street, as are the branches of the trees and all the birds in them. Not so much as one scarlet cardinal breaks the monotony.
When the air is grey and so is the world, a fire is in order. In a fireplace, if you have one, but a candle will do nicely if you do not. You need something about warmth, something yellow and orange, a little flame, kinetic in its brave insistence on being there and being counted. You need a nice cup of tea, or a cup of coffee with milk that you heated up and frothed a bit, so that your drink would feel more fattening than it really is. You need a nice magazine and some nice music on the radio. You need some Jane Austen to read.
At any time after 4pm, you can say evening prayer. Why 4pm? Because that's the rule. What will happen if you break the rule? Nothing. It's just fun to keep it, nice to think of a bell ringing the hour somewhere and people stopping what they are doing to mark the dying of the daylight and the lighting of the candles.
If I am by myself, I like to say evening prayer at the time the sun is going down, because in it we have the ancient hymn phos hilaron. "Gracious light" is how our prayer book renders those words, although I think it might be a little closer to the hymn's intent to call it "gladdening light," instead, as some old translators used to do: a light that makes us glad. A fire that shares itself in gladness, multiplies its own light, as fire always does: fire is something we get more of when we give some of it away, unlike almost everything else we might share. Except for the happy contagion of love.
O Gracious Light
pure brightness of the everlasting Father in heaven.
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing praises, O God:
Father Son and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times
to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
- Book of Common Prayer
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Mark your calendar now for "Gardens and Grace: Soul Sanctuary, Quiet Delight" at Kanuga in Hendersonville, NC, this coming May 27-31. Barbara Crafton will be among the keynote speakers, and will also be around to talk about garden writing (bring yours!). Philip Roderick founder of the Quiet Garden Movement in England, will speak about Celtic Spirituality. Terry Hershey, landscape designer and writer, will talk about what gardens teach us about living in the blessed present. And Denise Inge will talk about the ecstatic nature poetry of Thomas Treherne. And Kanuga will be its beautiful self, one of the loveliest places anywhere. http://www.kanuga.org/conferences/2007/gardens-grace.shtml