The Divine Hours of Lent

Bodies are peculiar things, or at least they seem so to me. They tend to have wills of their own about what they can and can not, will and will not do, almost to the point of being idiosyncratic….or, as my husband Sam would say, almost to the point of being downright peculiar.
The “peculiar thing” in my case has to do with eating. I have never been a breakfast eater. In fact, in childhood, I made a pact with my body that I would not annoy it with food before one or two in the afternoon, if it would return the favor by not annoying me with cramps and complaints. The deal has held all these many decades since.
Then sometime in my adulthood, it became more and more obvious that my body was happiest with me if I would feed it once a day…voraciously, certainly, but only once. The face-saving factor here is that one of our sons has inherited the same problem or constitution, depending on how one sees it; and he too can eat with comfort only once a day.
A once-a-day feeding frenzy is really not so bad…a little awkward if one is out with friends and orders the whole menu, but not insurmountable. No, the problem really came some eight or ten years ago when the body decided that being fed once a day was still just fine, so long as the once a day happens in mid-afternoon, say sometime between 2:30 and 3:30, but no later.
Scientists talk a good deal about circadian rhythms, and I suspect that that is what I am talking about as well. Somehow, for some reason, some primitive gene is running around in my DNA and setting my daily, physical rhythms by a clock that worked better in the jungle than it does in the world of business dinners and social obligations, and – let’s admit it—of really fun parties. But some four or five years ago, I found that there is a compensatory and benevolent side to all of this.
When I eat later than mid-afternoon, I sleep like the proverbial baby until about midnight or so. Then suddenly, abruptly, I am wide awake, refreshed, rested, ready for a new day to begin. Unfortunately no one else is on my clock, and so I lie there…or I used to. I used to read, sometimes, which is not a bad use of time for a person in my business. Or I would outline the next piece of writing in my head and jot down the outline I had contrived. Or I would do what women especially are prone to and make to-do lists with which to burden my time in the world’s waking hours. But somewhere along the way, I came upon—or was given—something else.
Anyone who wakes at midnight and lies there mentally alert and working for three or fours hours is going to be a slug-a-bed the next morning, slow to rouse and reluctant to rise. Nothing is going to change that. But the benison I chanced upon is that in those contented, well-fed, quiet hours of wakefulness in a world that is in abeyance, there is a delight that makes a weary morning seem a small price to pay. Please understand: I do not deliberately eat late nowadays in order simply to cause those hours to come or happen; but I do sometimes find myself anticipating them with delight when I know that unavoidable circumstances are about to evoke them.
What I discovered, then, is that if one lies abed in the dark in a sleeping world, one begins to have interior conversations. At first blush, that may look like another way of saying that one simply thinks; but thinking leads to manuscript outlines and to-do lists, and that is most assuredly not what I mean. Such might also look, perhaps at second blush, a lot like just some nocturnal form of talking to oneself. But conversations with oneself, at least in my experience, rarely lead to much more than the articulation of the obvious or else to some kind of civil disagreement about one’s conduct.
No, this is different. This is interior conversation right enough, but it is not with my psyche or my ego or my mind. Rather it is a communion with some constituent presence that is none of them. It is, I think, something close to what the psalmist meant when he said that” in the watches of the night, I commune with my soul.”
Historically, Lent has been the liturgical season most inclined to the practice of the Night Vigil, to the business of deliberately depriving oneself of nocturnal sleep for the purposes of holiness. Up until my body kicked in four or five years ago with its weird demands, I had always found such practices to be a bit suspect…too religious, too pretentious, and probably, if I am to be honest, too primitive. I’m a wiser woman now, though; and mid-way of this Lent, I have to say so. In the business of keeping vigil alone in a sleeping world there is an Easter communion…or there is the first intimation of what communion after the final Easter will be; and I would feel that I was being unfaithful to my own experience if I did not say so at some point here.

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