Clergy from left, Deacon Cynthia Biddlecomb, retired; Pastor Nicolé Ferry, Assistant Rector Lynn Finnegan and Pastor Deb Church. Courtesy photo
By Reverend Lynn Finnegan
The Episcopal Church of the USA
“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.”
This prayer, attributed to the fourth century saint, Augustine of Hippo, is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and is prayed at the end of the day. I love its calming rhythm. I find myself sighing a deep sigh when I pray it. Slowly, slowly my clinched grip on all the world’s worries is loosened. I know as I pray there will be those for whom the night won’t be peaceful. Sometimes I am one of them.
One part of the prayer perplexed me, however. I mean, yes, Lord, please, PLEASE take care of the sick and dying, the suffering, weeping, and weary, but “shield the joyous”? For a long while I puzzled over this phrase. Why do the joyous need protection? Saint Augustine left us no explanation for this seemingly out-of-place part of the petition. One commentator opined it was a prayer of protection for revelers out “joyously” partying at all hours of the night.
Maybe. But I think there’s something more to it. I think the joyous need shielding because in the face of suffering and pain and sickness, joy needs protecting. Your son’s about to get married and your best friend won’t be there because she’s undergoing chemo treatment. You have a great vacation planned and your neighbor just lost her job. Your co-worker announces he is getting divorced on your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Your child’s birthday is the same day your sister miscarried. Or maybe it’s someone else’s joy that needs shielding from you: your jealousy, competitiveness, or criticism. Life is messy and unpredictable, but it is also wild and wonderful. When we suppress joy, or sabotage the joy of others, we doubt our ability to live fully into the lives God has given us.
“Here are the two best prayers I know,” author Anne Lamott wrote, “‘Help me, help me, help me,’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’” Keep watch, dear Lord. Every day, at the end of the day, we are given an opportunity to pray Help! for our sorrows, but also Thank you! for our joys, asking God to tend and bless, pity, soothe, and, yes, shield. And then we uncurl our fingers and let go.
Editor’s note: ‘All Shall Be Well’ is a semi-monthly column written by local women clergy (pastors and deacons) including, ELCA Deacon Cynthia Biddlecomb, M.Div., retired (email@example.com); Nicolé Ferry, Pastor, Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church (firstname.lastname@example.org); Lynn Finnegan, Assistant Rector, The Episcopal Church of the Holy Faith, Santa Fe (email@example.com) and Deb Church, Pastor, White Rock Presbyterian Church (firstname.lastname@example.org).