Vespers

The Evening’s Glow

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors, which it passes to a row of ancient trees.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

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C, Ornate | ClipArt ETColors bleed and fade back into the darkening canvas of evening at the hour of Vespers.

The activity, the energy, the outward expression of life throughout the day is drawn back inward and takes the form of glow. It is the glow of warm hues painted across the evening sky; it is the flickering glow of fireflies on a summer night. It is the hospitable glow that emanates from apartment windows on a city street, as the sky fades to violet-blue, and the day turns to domestic cares at day’s end.

Vespers is a homecoming, returning home to the ground of being. There is an equanimity to this hour, which allows all the pieces of the day to settle back into the whole. Whatever struggles or obstacles we may have faced, whatever battles have been lost or won, whatever joys have visited us or tragedies befallen us, they are held equally in the evening’s glow. Where our intentions, our words, our actions on this day have been of benefit, we offer our humble gratitude into the glow. Where we may have come up short on this day, we allow the feeling of regret or remorse to penetrate our being. Then we transform it into a wholehearted intention to do better, letting go and offering that intention into the glow of evening. When the busyness of our modern life permits us no time or space to slow down and reflect, we can become caught in a cycle of blame and regret that never ends from day to day. The peace of heart that is the texture of this hour comes from acknowledging and allowing things to be as they are at this moment, including the shortcomings of ourselves and others. It is the nature of life that each day presents new challenges and contradictions, and the day will never arrive when each and every one of them has been resolved at day’s end.

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As the monks at Heiligenkreuz prepare to celebrate Vespers, lamps are lit throughout the monastery and along the cloister walk. The lighting of lamps is a ritual that takes us back to our earliest human ancestors, and their communal use of fire at the end of the day. Lamp rituals can be found in nearly every culture across the world. In Korea and other Asian countries, paper lanterns are strung above the ground and lit in May to commemorate the birth and life of the Buddha. When I lived in Korea, I recall spending a weekend in the countryside near a large Buddhist temple at this time of year. I was hiking with a friend in the mountains, and as we made our descent near dusk, the entire valley was aglow with a sea of lanterns radiating out from the temple below. It was a magical homecoming after climbing and navigating the stones and boulders of the mountain trail all day.

We can build such a homecoming ritual into our day by lighting a lamp, in the glow of which we can acknowledge the full panoply of living – the ups and downs, the successes and failures, the gifts and shortcomings – that make up each and every day. We can see that the glow does not discriminate, but casts its warmth and light on whatever is set before it, exactly as it is.

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Poem

Sunset
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as the house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the external as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs --

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

 


Practice

  • 1 Grow-Better / 3 Gratitudes – Reflect on the day at the hour of Vespers. Focus on one situation you could grow better from, and three things you feel grateful for.

    • 1 GROW BETTER –  Bring to mind one situation that you might have handled better through your thoughts, words, or actions. If you feel a sense of remorse or regret, simply feel it in the body. Ground yourself in the body and breath, then ask, Where does this feeling of regret or remorse live in the body? Where and how do I feel it?  Don’t feed a spiraling storyline of what happened or what you should have done, simply feel it alive in the body in this moment. The point is not self-criticism, but a commitment to self-growth. Contemplate what you might commit to do better in a similar situation in the future, or any amends you feel are in order. Make a commitment to grow better from this situation. Feel the sense of that commitment alive in the body in this moment, vow to follow through on it in the future, and then let it go.
    • 3 GRATTITUDES – Scan through the day and bring to mind three things you encountered for which you feel grateful: people in your life, a kind word or gesture, an experience of the natural world… Whatever they may be, hold each one in your mind for a few moments, keeping an awareness of your body and breath. Just feel the sense of grattitude for each of these things, and then let each of them go. Our evolutionary development as human beings has given us a negativity bias, which causes us to focus greater attention on those things that disturb us or pose some form of real or perceived threat. As a result, the good things can slip right past us while we are busy fixating on the bad. We can use this hour to consciously undo that habitual pattern, and to remind ourselves that even in the worst situations there are things we can find to be grateful for. This practice can help us to more fully appreciate what this unique day has offered us before it comes to a close.
  • Sunset Walk – Take a walk at sunset to feel the texture of this hour. What do you sense, feel, see, hear? What is your experience of the texture of this hour. How do you experience the “glow”?

Contemplate

  • What is a space, a lamp, a ritual that might serve as a practice of Vespers in your daily life; an opportunity to reflect upon the day that is drawing to completion?
  • Rilke, in his poem, says, “One moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.” Looking back on one of the more challenging situations you have faced, a moment when your life was “a stone in you”, can you think of three threads of that experience for which you can also feel grateful?
  • What is the difference between self-criticism, regret, and remorse? When and in what way are any of these useful or helpful? When are any of them unhelpful?


Create

  • Vespers Lantern: Create a lantern you can light at the hour of Vespers to be a source of glow in which you can reflect on the day.
  • Sunset: Look through photographs you have taken at sunset, or go out and take new ones. Find one that can serve as a visual reminder of this hour of Vespers. Or create a drawing or painting of a sunset image.

If you would like, share your work with info@art-of-being.org, to be compiled on this page at a later date.


Share

Share your own experiences, observations, or insights in the comment section below. Remember to follow these two guidelines:

  1. Speak from your own lived experience.
  2. Situate any outside references (religious, spiritual, literary, etc.) within your lived experience (i.e. what experience of your own made those ideas or words of others ring true in your life)

 

 

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