There were weeks in college when I lived for The Compline. It goes also by the name of "All Praise to Thee, my God, This Night." Whatever its name, it is one of the oldest and loveliest hymns I know, penned in the late 17th century by Thomas Ken, an Englishman. The simple music, by Thomas Tallis is a century older still. And even if you have never heard of it, you may have sung the last verse, known by Protestant Christians throughout the English-speaking world. It is the source of The Doxology, or Common Doxology.
I read it today for the first time in its entirety. Usually, I have sung only four or five of its twelve verses. But even in its shortened version, it was for me, from week to week, in the breathing space between a capella verses, a place in which to feel brave enough to go out again and charge the darkness, to use a term of Gary's.
All praise to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.
Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.
O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.
When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.
O when shall I, in endless day,
For ever chase dark sleep away,
And hymns divine with angels sing,
All praise to thee, eternal King?
Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
My father died on a Monday. I was a visitor at a downtown D.C. church the night before. I had not sung the compline in a year (California churches know less than one might hope about 17th-century British worship). And a woman at the front played it on the guitar. I sang with sudden joy, and knew thereafter the gift of preparation, the promise of the Lord's companionship, that had been given to me.
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