All For Your Love’s Sake: A Review of Prayer in the Night

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Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night is out in the world now. In it, her dark night of the soul is framed in the context of Compline from the Book of Common Prayer:

Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work, or watch, or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary, bless the dying,
Soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous;
And all for your love’s sake. Amen.

—Compline, The Book of Common Prayer

This is nothing like an objective review. Sheesh, it’s probably not really a review. It’s a week or so later than Drew Miller asked me to have this because Tish and her family just stayed with us in Nashville during their move from Pittsburgh to Texas, and we needed to clean up the house out of “pandemic comfortably dirty” mode to “we can move everybody around and fit two families in” mode. Also, I make a cameo in the book. So: not objective.

The Warrens are some of our closest friends, the kind of people with whom we might just possibly up and create a commune. It comes up every time we hang out. Praying daily prayer and homeschooling and writing books and gathering people and brewing beer and building stuff and raising chickens and goats… we’d do that.

The gift of Prayer in the Night is that, even if you are not mentioned by name, she is telling your story of being in the dark. Tish is lighting candles for you.

Katy Bowser

We first met when I was on the Indelible Grace tour (twenty years ago?) and had been in a van full of guys for a month. She was an intern at a church in Winston-Salem, and invited me out for a beer and girl time. A couple of years later I hung out with her (and her Jonathan and my Kenny) at a crawfish boil in High Shoals, GA. Then we ran into them on a friend’s porch in my Nashville neighborhood, and not long after the Warrens moved in two blocks away. We had babies, we strolled around East Nashville solving the world’s problems and learning how to be moms. Our friendship has mostly developed over one decade, but a lot has happened in this one decade, for each of our families. So, as Tish wrote, I prayed for protection around her. It couldn’t have been easy work.

There are two wonders about Prayer in the Night. The first is that it sounds just like Tish. As many reviewers have commented now, it’s like sitting with a close friend and pouring your hearts out. It’s so personal. Tish wrote it after a heartbreaking year. She had too many dear ones die, and she came far too close to dying. She did not come by this book lightly.

Secondly, not unlike her acclaimed Liturgy of the Ordinary, she chooses a form that has shaped her heart and mind to shape her story. Prayer in the Night begins with crisis, with Tish in emergency miscarriage. While bleeding profusely and being rushed into the hospital, she calls to Jonathan to pray Compline with her. She joins ranks with the Church Invisible in a prayer prayed in the dark for centuries, planting herself in the context of the big story, and calling on the God who is telling it. Like Chaunteceleer in Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow, she is crowing the most real reality into the blackness.

In her chapter “Soothe the Suffering,” Tish observes:

Scripted prayers—the prayers of Compline, the Psalms, or any other received prayers—are not static. As we pray them, we read our own lives back into the words we pray. Our own biographies shape our understanding of these prayers as much as these prayers shape us and our own stories.

—Tish Harrison Warren

Prayer in the Night is a meta-example of this interaction of life and prayer, inviting gentle but thorough triage. As R.E.M. says, “everybody hurts.”

As Tish works her way through compline, she tells stories from her life, from scripture, from church history, from a breadth of disciplines. Indeed, her experience as a priest, a daughter, a writer, a mother, a wife, a friend, all come to bear here: she uses it all. For a few paragraphs, she tells my story. The gift of Prayer in the Night is that, even if you are not mentioned by name, she is telling your story of being in the dark. Tish is lighting candles for you.

I started writing “messy sonnets” during Advent this year, and read one around our church’s Epiphany bonfire at Andrew and Jamie Peterson’s house. Afterward, Andrew asked if I liked sonnets, and we geeked out for a minute over the beauty of working out something ineffable and mysterious in a highly structured form. The counterintuitive freedom of creating in a form can be a heady sensation.

Tish likens not just liturgy but the Christian life to a sonnet, with Christian doctrine as “the grammar and syntax.” She celebrates both the scaffolding structure and the improvisation and newness within which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit breathe. As if to illustrate her point, she uses a (ridiculously beautiful) Julie Miller song and some physics to back it up. Sheesh.

So, non-objectively, with my heart encouraged, with deep love for the author: this book is for you, because you live in a hurting world, and everybody hurts. As I’ve already shared Compline at the beginning here, I don’t think it will spoil your read to tell you that Prayer in the Night ends gloriously, hopefully: “And all for Your love’s sake, Amen.”

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