May He support us all the day long,
till the shades lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest
and peace at the last.
—John Henry Newman (1801–1890)
“Hail Mary, the Jesus of Christ, he was born on Christmas Day. Amen,” my five-year-old son prayed last December. After our usual bedtime prayers, we had been inviting him to offer his own prayer to God. He’s always happy to offer a sweet, simple, and somewhat disjointed nugget of childlike love to God.
St. John Henry Newman’s evening prayer embraces these quiet moments at day’s end. Here, as the “shades lengthen and the evening comes,” we reflect on God’s nourishing and loving presence with us. Some evenings, we may look back with wonder and gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given: a little hand in ours, a good work accomplished, or a consolation in prayer. On other days, we may ache with fatigue or sadness, anxious for God’s merciful love. Regardless, we find the same God waiting for us at day’s end: eager to give us the gift of Godself, the ultimate “safe lodging, holy rest, and peace at the last.”
Admittedly, as an exhausted father of three small boys, there are some evenings when the only sincere prayer I can mutter is, “God, thank you for getting me through this day.” But it is precisely in this “fever of life” that we see the opportunity afforded each of us: to embrace ordinary moments of our day as invitations to participate in God’s own life. As we wash the dishes or do the laundry or pay the bills, we are invited to let God’s life live in us and through us. Suddenly, to feed a child or speak a kind word to someone who is suffering becomes a participation in the Divine Life of the Trinitarian God, with whom we hope to spend eternity.
For truly, all good evening prayers are as much about the sunset of our life as the sunset of each day. Here, when “the busy world is hushed . . . and our work is done,” we reflect on how we have lived our day, how we are living this moment, and how we may more deeply live in God as we surrender to the darkness of sleep, as one day we will surrender to the darkness of death. Will this night find us ready to throw ourselves into God’s loving arms? Will the moment of our death?
It’s never too early to start preparing.
Michael Sanem, “An Evening Prayer,” from the October 2021 issue of Give Us This Day, http://www.giveusthisday.org (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2021). Used with permission.