By Gideon Strauss

Recently I was listening to recordings of the radio station WNYC’s New Sounds program, and particularly moved by an episode on vespers. I recommend the episode to you with enthusiasm: it contains evening music by John Tavener, John Zorn, Gavin Bryars, and the like. (Here’s the link again: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/newsounds/2013/jul/11/.) As I listened to the evensong music curated by New Sounds‘s John Schaefer, I thought back to Fieldnotes Magazine‘s “Starting the day well” compendium from a few weeks back, and wondered about the daily experience of the time around sunset of people who read Fieldnotes Magazine. My guess is that some find themselves squinting into the sun as they commute on the highway, some are still wrapping a few things up on email before catching the subway home, a few are perhaps calling in their children for supper after a late afternoon of play. I wondered if anyone experiences, as Schaefer describes vespers, a “sense of ritual, when things become dark and still”? And so I asked a few friends.

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Alas, the ends of my days are as varied as the days themselves …

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.

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Sunset Cliffs National Park, San Diego, California

Sunset Cliffs National Park, San Diego, California

My husband and I work together from home.  Because of this, working too much is a major temptation. In the early days of our business it was not uncommon that we’d get lost in a project, only to realize we had worked well past dinner and into sleeping hours!  In an effort to remain sane we began to practice what we call shutting the office door. At the time we initiated this practice, we actually lived in a repurposed barn. This meant that our office door was literally a stable door. So, somewhere between the hours of five and seven, we’d slide shut the stable door, closing off any temptation to work for the night. And even though we’ve recently moved to a place with less cool doors, we still practice this ritual. Most nights, one of us asks the other, “Is it time to shut the office door?” When we’ve both agreed, we either physically or psychologically leave the space we’ve been working and transition into whatever our evening holds. It is the practice of shutting the office door that signifies we are done for the day, that whatever hasn’t been completed can wait until tomorrow.

Michaela O’Donnell Long is the co-owner of Long Winter Media, which specializes in crafting story through film, image and word. She is pursuing a PhD in Practical Theology at Fuller Seminary and is a De Pree Center doctoral fellow.

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Ten years ago, during my first year of marriage I was working as a tree-trimmer and my wife was working as a youth minister. On the way home I tried to stop thinking about my day of chainsaws and tree-climbing to imagine what her day might have been like. I wanted to be prepared to meet her, listen and be present. Now that my commute is a few minutes walk and two other little people await my return, this practice is harder to do. Still, the transition between working and being present with family goes best when I consciously shift my thoughts from my own day on the way home and sit down for a few minutes with my wife when I arrive.

Matt Lumpkin works at the intersection of theological education and technology in order to help this Gutenberg moment become a Wittenberg moment.

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Sunset Ridge Trail, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, California

Sunset Ridge Trail, San Gabriel Mountains, Angeles National Forest, California

Vespers: there is a reason film people call it “magic hour.” And it’s not just that twenty or so minutes of golden light that is universally resonant. Something happens at sundown that is both hopeful and melancholy. In fact, it’s the hour of prayer (you knew I’d go here, didn’t you, Gideon) when we gather—partly to share a meal, and partly to face the dark together. What was the first nightfall Adam and Eve experienced like for them? (Go with me here, it’s magic hour.) What horror they must have felt! We light candles to see where our forks are, of course, but also in faith that the light will return. So, we rehearse every night for death, teaching ourselves that the light always returns, even after that long leaving.

Something like all of that happens at vespers for me: melancholy, excitement, heartbreak and heart-stirring. Funny, though I try not to take too seriously any feeling that appears when the sun disappears, the light also feels most alive at that “hinge” hour. So that’s probably why hope looks more like vespers than any other hour for me, even lauds. Vespers is not beautiful to me in spite of those tensions, I think it is beautiful because of them.

Lauralee Farrer is Lead Storyteller and Senior Editor at Fuller Theological Seminary and president of Burning Heart Productions. Among other things Lauralee is working on a film project described as follows: “The Praying the Hours project is composed of two parts: a narrative feature and eight 30-minute short films. The core of the Praying the Hours project is based on the ancient practice of fixed-hour prayer observed by the Abrahamic faith traditions. By personifying each hour into a character, we tell the story of a 24-hour day as if the hours were a community of friends.”

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Have you have been able to cultivate practices that allow you a few dark and still moments toward the end of your work day, or in the subsequent evening – something close to vespers? What early evening practices help you end your workday well?

Gideon Strauss is the executive director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

One Response to Ending the workday well

  1. Something like vespers often comes for me while I’m doing the dishes after dinner. My kids are working on homework or playing outside. My wife is likely helping them. And I’m doing the dishes. It is a wonderfully centering chore.

    A few times each week my wife and I will have a glass of wine on the back porch after the kids are in bed. This may be too late to qualify as vespers, but it is a wonderful thing.