Monday, December 21, 2009

O Oriens

rectory sunrise And now we come to number five of seven:

O Dayspring, brightness of light eternal, and Sun of Righeousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Or, in the familiar parlance of the hymn version:

O come, thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

I’m not a morning person. Truth to tell, the most difficult decision I make on any given day is to get out of bed. Still, there’s something compelling about a sunrise. Living on the western edge of the eastern time zone, it’s not hard for even a slacker like me to be up at the crack of dawn. I snapped the picture above out the bedroom window with my iPhone a few days ago at about 7:30 AM, realizing that it was a fragile fleeting moment.

Sunrise is not only luminous, but also numinous. To our primordial forebears, every evening must have been traumatic. They eventually learned that what goes around comes around, but that initial panic over the onset of darkness attached itself to an unsuspecting strand in our communal psychic DNA. So we have a subliminal squeamishness, at least (for some it’s an abject fear), about darkness, and a corresponding relief when that darkness disappears.

One of the skills that one develops in the practice of Christian prayer is to hallow the cycles of time. If every sunset is a trifle annoying because—who knows?—maybe this time it’s permanent, then every time we lay our heads on a pillow and allow ourselves to fall asleep, it’s a risky move, because—who knows?—maybe this time it will be permanent. Every act of falling asleep is, in effect, a rehearsal for the Big Sleep. Since, barring an imminent parousia, it’s an inescapable eventuality, we could probably do with the practice.

But if that much is true for every sunset, then there is a parallel truth in every sunrise. The Monday collect for Morning Prayer cuts to the chase:

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night, and turns the shadow of death into morning …

Every sunrise is a foretaste of “that great gettin’-up mornin’” (I’m obviously married to a choir director). Every time we entrust ourselves to sleep at night and, in fact, do wake up the next morning, it's an anticipation of the resurrection of the body that we proclaim in the creeds. Every time my feet hit the floor as I roll out of bed (always reluctantly), I’ve conditioned myself to sign myself with the cross and recollect my identity as one who has been baptized into the dying the rising of Christ. A little while later, during the Morning Office, these words from the Song of Zechariah cross my lips:

In the tender compassion of our God * the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, * and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Cranmer’s original Anglicization of this text rendered “dawn” as “dayspring.” In the conventional sense, I’m still not a morning person, and that isn’t likely to change. But scratch the surface, and morning is my favorite time ever, because I have been claimed by the Dayspring from on high who has broken in upon us.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

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