Aug 5 2012

Thank the Lord for the Nighttime

From time to time I hear Neil Diamond singing “Thank the Lord for the nighttime” on the radio.  Although it is for totally different reasons than he suggests in the song, I have learned from my studies of Celtic Spirituality that giving thanks for the nighttime is actually a very good thing to do.  I realize that a lot of people find nighttime frightening, but it, too, is a part of God’s Creation.  Genesis 1:3-5 says “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”  Later in the same chapter we read that God made “lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night.” (v. 14)

For most of us night is a time for sleeping and rest.  When it grows dark we turn out the lights and go to bed.  We may sleep during the night but life goes on.  In fact night is the most active time for much of Creation.  Nocturnal creatures hunt and feed while we sleep.  The bright light of the sun that we need to operate is not so critical for them; the light of the moon and stars is sufficient.

The ancient Celts recognized the value of the moon in ways we typically do not.  They often spoke of the moon in their evening prayers.  In the Carmina Gadelica one such prayer begins, “Bless to me, O God, the moon that is above me.”  Another includes the sentence, “Holy be each thing which she [the moon] illumines.”  Commenting on this latter phrase, Philip Newell says the Celts didn’t think the moon made things holy, “but rather that in her light the holiness of each thing is more readily perceived.”  Newell goes on to suggest, “We need to rediscover ways of experiencing the light of the night, for it can open in us perceptions that are complementary to seeing by the light of day.”

I wonder if we are not missing out on much of what God has to say to us through His Creation by ignoring what goes on at night.  Do our observations of the earth have to cease once the sun goes down?  The Psalmist apparently didn’t think so.  In Psalm 8 he wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (vs. 3-4)   His observations of the night sky led him to awesome wonder and praise.  Our observations of the world around and above us at night might very well do the same.

I love the stillness of the night and the coolness that usually comes with it.  I love the shadows and silhouettes nighttime brings.  I love the sounds of nature you hear only at night.  And, like the Psalmist, I love looking at the moon and stars above.  These things help me feel closer to God.   They help me sense His presence.

I encourage you to look for ways you can enjoy nature at night and the revelations of God that come with it.  I’ll close with a prayer Philip Newell includes in his beautiful little book, Celtic Benediction“Glory to you, O God of the night, for the whiteness of the moon and the infinite stretches of dark space.  Let me be learning to love the night as I know and love the day.  Let me be learning to trust its darkness and to seek its subtle blessings.  Let me be learning the night’s way of seeing that in all things I may trace the mystery of your presence.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Death Valley National Park, the star trails in Kentucky, and the moonlit landscape at Big Bend National Park.)