I will admit that I picked this hymn solely because I liked its title. I didn’t know it at all. The tune isn’t very catchy and I can’t say I loved it. It is one of those really, really old tunes (1539) that doesn’t exactly flow easily for our modern ears. But I played it a few times and it started to grow on me. And then, I read the words.
Now all the woods are sleeping,
through fields the shadows creeping,
and cities sink to rest.
Let us, as night is falling,
upon our maker calling,
give thanks to God, who loves us best.
The radiant sun has vanished,
its golden rays are banished
from dark’ning skies of night.
But Christ the sun of gladness,
dispelling all our sadness,
shines down on us in warmest light.
Now all the heav’nly splendor
breaks forth its starlight tender
from myriad worlds unknown.
And we, this marvel seeing,
forget our selfish being
for joy of beauty not our own.
Though long our ancient blindness
has missed God’s loving kindness
and plunged us into strife,
one day when life is over
shall death’s fair night uncover
the fields of everlasting life.
I love the idea of night. The darkness, the quiet. The possibility of peaceful sleep. The time to let go of daily concerns, busy schedules, pressing concerns. The beautiful feeling of comfortable aloneness. A time to rest and restore our bodies and minds. The idea of night.
Then, there is the reality of night. Lying wide awake wondering if sleep will ever come. All the concerns of days past and days to come swirling around like a flock of crazed birds. Worrying about how difficult tomorrow will be because of not enough sleep. The sadness found in loneliness. The reality of night.
I find these words speak to both the ideal and the reality. Lovely shadows creeping through fields as we sink to rest, yet we find the radiant sun’s golden rays have been banished. These words are full of the suggestion that we need something to hold us when we find ourselves alone. Alone with our fears. Alone with our thoughts. Alone with our failures. Alone with our pain. Alone with loss. For those moments we find ourselves facing the darkness of night, unable to find its beauty and peace. We all need something to shine warmth when we are cold, tenderness when we are raw.
In the past few weeks, I have spoken with a number of people who are facing some of life’s deepest challenges. We all have these times. In these moments of night that bring no real peace or rest, it is easy to feel very alone. For those that find themselves unable to see beyond the darkening skies, it can be debilitating to find any warmth. For those that must go through difficult transitions, it can be so tiring to have the patience to walk the path. For some the darkness is insurmountable.
Where do we find the sunshine of gladness to ease our way? I don’t know. For some, it is in their faith, as this hymn suggests. For some it is in their friends and family. For some it is in their therapist’s office. For some it is in the beauty of nature, art or written words and ideas that they seek comfort. But I suspect there is something in the act of seeking the warmth we need that helps us through the nights.
And yet, there are those times that the weight of the night is so heavy it is difficult to see beyond it or to seek what we need. It is in these times that those of us fortunate enough to find ourselves in moments of sunshine need to be the rays of warm light. We may not have solutions, but there is something to be said for being a listening ear, a caring hand and a giving soul when darkness has become a thick fog. For loving kindness is a powerful tool against ancient blindness. It is present and it is warm.
Loving kindness has a tendency to reveal a beauty that is not our own. The kind of beauty that resides in both day and night, in both sadness and joy. The kind of beauty that gives us the opportunity to receive and offer peace and rest to the weary. When we deliberately walk in loving kindness we reveal the possibility of night’s safety. And, just maybe, we are able to find paths in the darkness of the sleeping woods.