Human beings need markers. We need to keep track of things, measuring the time and the (usually) illusory progress that we have made. We especially need to divide the day into manageable chunks. The idea of eternity is so difficult for us to grasp, we struggle to do more than chew around what we imagine the edges to be, like a teething infant trying to make sense of the world.
Marking the different parts of the day can become part of our spiritual practice, as it has been for those in religious life for centuries. We have always rung bells in our Temples and monasteries, calling one another to prayer. Those who live in orders say particular prayers at particular times throughout the day, and those of us who are called to lives of prayer within the world may well do the same, praying the hours in our own homes or workplaces, saying the Angelus, praying the Rosary and so on.
It seems to me that the beginning and ending of our days are the most universal times to make holy markers with prayer. We start in the morning offering up all that is to be, our work and our activities, and then close again in the evening offering up all that was. This practice seems to be hard-wired into humanity. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the cool of the morning and of the evening. In hot countries, this makes natural sense, but it also seems to fit as a way to separate work from rest, night from day, light from dark, holy from ordinary.
In my mind’s eye in prayer, I see it this way:
The Emperor’s garden is cool in the morning and the evenings. A gentle mist pervades the dense lush green, and those of us who slave away in the heat of the day, tending vines and pergolas, hoeing and weeding, are rewarded by the soft pearls of water forming on our skin, speaking to us of good endings and fresh beginnings.
Nor are we afraid to meet our sovereign, should he venture to come and sit on one of the stone benches, carved in the shapes of bulging-eyed dragons or clawing eagles, to pause for a while and absorb the beauty all around.
He always smiles, even begins a conversation, and is a good and patient listener. No, we are not afraid. Indeed we do not feel our lowliness, but only the wonder of where we are and who we are with. When he leaves to tend his kingdom, or to sleep, leaving us to our work or rest, the birds sing him on his way and the flowers bloom at the slippered touch of his wise feet. Like us, they see benevolence and grace, and do what they were created to do. There is never any shame in work, song or colour, and pride never enters our hearts in this garden, for everything here is done out of pure love.
Featured image credit: Dawn Colours by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt. See more beautiful artwork on Keren’s website.