Prayer in the Night Review

After the success of Tish Harrison Warren’s bestseller, Liturgy of the Ordinary, her new book, Prayer in the Night comes out January 26. Combination memoir, rich theological work, and cultural commentary, this book is truly remarkable. It is about the very real and common human struggle with theodicy (the problem of evil) and anxiety in the face of suffering. It also reveals how the ancient prayers of the daily office, with a specific focus on the nighttime prayer of Compline, are a treasure trove on which we can lean. 

Warren journeyed through a time of intense darkness and doubt during a grief-filled year in her life, her own “dark night of the soul.” She faced sleepless, anxious nights as old questions, doubts, and fears resurfaced—questions about God’s goodness and her own vulnerability. During this time, Warren, who is a priest in the ACNA (Anglican Church of North America), held fast to Compline when she simply couldn’t find any other words to pray.

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. 

Book of Common Prayer

Warren turns over each rich phrase of this section of the Compline prayer in all its beauty and forthrightness about our painful and joyous human condition. She takes us into the heart of the problem of pain by posing questions like, “If God cannot be trusted to keep bad things from happening, how can He be trusted at all?” 

Warren dives deep into the struggles we face in life and that we pray over in Compline—sickness, affliction, weariness, and death.  In doing so, she draws upon her own experiences and those around her—common faith struggles with which we may relate—such as miscarriage, fighting for her marriage, her husband’s battle to conquer his anger, and their friends’ struggle to trust God with the results of their child’s surgery. She also draws upon the works of many beloved writers such as C. S. Lewis and Flannery O’Connor.

Here are some words. Pray them. They are strong enough to hold you. These will help your unbelief.

She writes, “Every prayer I have prayed, from the most faithful to the least, has been in part a confession uttered in the Gospel of Mark, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ and “the church, in the midst of my weakness, responded with her ancient voice, ‘Here are some words. Pray them. They are strong enough to hold you. These will help your unbelief.’”

Through the rich practices tucked into the Compline prayer—working, watching, and weeping—Warren helps us to find fresh hope within the “crucible of our own fragility” and the mysteries we both “endure” and “proclaim” on this side of eternity. We are challenged along with her to lean into Him in our suffering with the end-goal of Jesus alone—for “to know Jesus is to learn to walk His strange path of flourishing, of abundant life.” As the book draws to a close, Warren reflects on the gift and practice of joy—enduring joy—and the vital role of celebration, gratitude, and hope.

Prayer in the Night is a beautiful gem of a book. It is both profoundly challenging and deeply comforting. Her striking vulnerability rings rare and true, without being overdone. The writing is excellent, deeply theological, yet very down-to-earth—and never, ever trite. It is arriving just in time for the slow season of Lent, and I know I will be re-reading and sitting with it again. 

Click on the picture to pre-order it today!

Sarah Livesay
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