Evening. How can you not think about what passes in this atmosphere? How can the future be looked at without the slightest anxiety?
Early or late, sunny or rainy, it is always a reminder: something is ending.
We don’t associate the time of day with devotion. It doesn’t seem to be important whether it’s morning, afternoon, evening or night. It’s just something external, and the relationship of I – God or us – to God, what would it matter? And yet sometimes it has. Well, the Easter Vigil must be at night. The Breviary with its hours – Morning Prayer, Prayer during the Day, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, as well as the readings during the night, is a structure deliberately meant to mark the rhythm of the day. To give it a greater significance than it had. Yet, such drawing attention to the time of day is appealing to human intuition: to the associations we have with particular times of the day. It makes it easier to bring certain things into focus. Helps the experience, makes theory become living in the here and now. After all, the words of the Exsultet about a candle lit for the glory of God, dispersing the darkness of night, sound different when it is already dark outside rather the sun still shining on the horizon, and you have to imagine the darkness.
So, what meaning do particular times of day have? Let’s stop for a moment to dust off the obvious intuitions and restore their beauty to them.
What is the difference between day and night? Basically, just light. More or less in the day, but it’s bright. In the night dark. Although it’s not always the case “seeing is believing” – obviously, at night it is cooler than in the day, but it rarely makes a great difference to anyone – however, the lack of light makes a big difference. Whether in the forest, or in a cemetery, or a well used path in the park, or even a narrow street in the city, in the day all is . . . . normal. It means that no one is afraid someone or something will jump out at you. Boo! Although in theory it’s possible. But at night . . . . At night, when it’s dark, there’s always something lurking somewhere, someone or something lying in wait! A dangerous animal, an evil man, and maybe even a hair-raising ghost. This is why, although having no rational reason, we illuminate everything we can all night. Whole streets in cities, even the least frequently used. Even though cars have headlights, the few people who return home at 2am could easily use torches which consume must less electricity. We spend a lot of money on this lighting, not because it is really needed but because it actually protects us from something (for hooded thugs who attack passers-by in lonely alleys, it probably makes no difference if it is lit or not), and in this way we feel safer. So, it is surely some sort of throwback – that we are people for whom the night often gives rise to fear.
Evening is the transition. From the calm and certainty of the day to the uncertainty and fear of the night. This is why it can cause anxiety. So, when hiking to the hubbub of the shelter, and it’s still some distance away, the sun is already low in the sky, such a hiker in the dying glow of the day and everything around is being plunged into the descending darkness, more anxiety is aroused then when setting out in total darkness. He lengthens his steps to get there faster . . . . Although, what does it matter if you get there a little earlier or later?
Evidence of the gut-feeling of fear in the evening can be found in the Gospels. It is when before the multiplication of loaves, the disciples of Jesus asked Him to send the crowds away because it was evening (Matthew 14:15). Was there no bread during the day? No problem. When night was approaching – it’s now a problem. Or in the scene, when the disciples going to Emmaus, persuade the Traveller to stay with them because “it is almost evening and the day is ending” (Luke 24:29). It is perceived that travelling in the day is different from travelling at night . . . .
In the evening our hearts are more prone to fretfulness, especially as the days become shorter. Incidentally, the mind embraced in this mood of the day often begins to ask questions. The day may end in the hustle and bustle of home life or plans to meet a friend, and so you miss the end of the day. But when nothing special is happening, when it’s quiet, and you can calmly watch the sun go down and light diminishes, it’s hard to be embraced by the feeling that something has ended. Since that day is over and will never return. All that happened that day can now only be the past. More and more remote with time. Just as all the other days have become a part of the past – for as long as you can remember them. Of course, there will be other days, maybe more beautiful, but that day will end, never to return. That’s the reality. Until the coming of the last evening, after which there will be no more . . . . The evening opens up the experience of fading away. And so helps directs thoughts toward eternity. Linked to the anxieties aroused an authentic plea is made, expressed in the antiphon for Night Prayer: “Salva nos Domine vigilantes, custodi nos dormientes, ut vigilemus cum Christo et requiescamus in pace”. “Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with Him in peace”. And so sounds the expression of an authentic request at the end of the liturgy: “The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end”. Yes. Amen.