"Compline," I wondered aloud to myself. "How much can anyone say about Compline?" It turns out the Kenneth Peterson can say a good meditation. It contains twelve chapters and three appendices. Each chapter includes a short bibliography. Appendix A contains the text of Compline that is more varied and expansive than that prescribed in the Rule of Benedict. Appendix B presents the texts of hymns and psalms available to hear on the website www.prayerasnightfalls/soundcloud.com
. Appendix C offers a selected list of resources for praying Compline from various Christian sources East and West. The volume is also amply footnoted.
The Compline Choir of St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle was formed in 1956 by Peter Hallock, who was its director, inspiration, and creative composer until his death in 2009. Author Kenneth Peterson came to the choir in 1964 as a young college student of Methodist/Presbyterian background interested in music. Interspersed in the various chapters are pieces of history of the choir, its audiences of believers and atheists, hippies, New Agers, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Spirituals. It expanded this audience through local radio and has traveled North America and its members are professional and semi-professional musicians from multiple religious denominations. Thus the narrative.
The text also contains abundant information on the sources of Compline, beginning with nighttime rituals of primitive peoples in Africa and the Americas that prepare for the coming darkness and its concomitant fears and uncertainties. The major religious have marked the evening as well as a time of uncertainty and of the need to invoke the Eternal. It is no surprise among these religions that Compline would find its immediate inspiration from Jewish practice of regular prayer morning and evening as well as throughout the day. Church East and West called the faithful to prayer at the beginning ans end of the day. The waning light prompted thoughts of danger in the unknown darkness and night as an image of sin and death and the need to call upon the Lord of Light to sustain us in sleep. Church Compline, of course, contained the Hebrew psalmody which spoke of these "terrors of the night" as well as the hope of the New Dawn. It was the Master and Saint Benedict, then, who made Compline part of the monastic day, and future reformers found in the Rule of Benedict the possibility of change and enrichment. Thus the scholarship.
It is the author who takes all this material from the past and the present and shapes it into a meditative experience of Compline and the choir. Darkness, even in our electrified cities, is still a time when life slows and sleep beckons, allowing the inner self to emerge. The silence prompts contemplation of the day and of life itself with its challenges and sorrows, the author sharing some of his own with us. The tradition finds God in the darkness and suggests prayer for protection and the new light. The choir service itself evokes beauty of sound and ritual, movement and silence, providing an experience of mystery and the divine.
There is some of this narrative, scholarship, and meditation in each of the chapters, all interwoven into a story of depth and beautya religious experience in itself. As the listener becomes part of the music, place to right brain experience of the moment. Truth is found in beauty rather than in rationality. Contemplation is possible. All this could, I suspect, even prompt a question in our houses: Whatever happened to Compline? Simeon Thole, osb., St. Johns Abbey, Collegeville, MN
Prayer as Night Falls is the chronicle of a personal spiritual journey with the Office of Compline. The author, Kenneth Peterson, has been a member of the Compline Choir at St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle for fifty years, served as a music teacher and is also a Benedictine oblate at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, WA. His book is a conflation of personal experience, brad historical overview, and practical documentation. A companion website for the book has been developed and contains a video introduction by the author and a page of musical examples that run tandem with the text.
Petersons intention is thus: I want to share stories, text, and music that have shaped and formed my own spiritual journey, which I hope will be beneficial to others on their own journeys. And [sic] I wasnt to explore the insights that the history and particular nature of Compline might give us. (p. 10)
He then proceeds to list six "themes" that he finds to be present in the discipline of Compline (note that these are not absolute ideas): Darkness and Light, Death and Life, Mysticism, Beauty, Community, and lastly, Finding Lasting Peace. Peterson briefly explores each of these concepts in relation to his experience of Compline and explains how his realizations contribute to a greater understanding of his spiritual life.
This book ends with several useful appendices: a complete liturgy for the Office of Compline, a list of all musical examples complete with texts in translation, and a list of resources for praying compline.
Twenty-five musical examples are found on the companion website which correspond to specific references within the text. The performances come from a variety of ensembles including the Byrd Ensemble and the Compline Choir at St. Marks, Seattle. I found this to be a helpful resource and its use in tandem with the book makes the experience of Petersons journey that much more palpable.
Prayer as Night Fall is highly subjective, personal reflection on a singular journey through the world of Compline. In terms of information, it lacks a wide frame of reference and often has very centralized coverage; much of Petersons text feels viewed through the St. Marks lens. However, it is an intimate and experiential account; a book of impressions meant to help those on a particular type of spiritual journey. To this end it becomes a highly useful tool and an aid for those wishing to explore the Office of Compline for the very first time, or those wishing to experience the Office in terms of a larger, more spiritual awakening. Erik W. Goldstrom, The Journal