Warren, Tish Harrison. 2021. Prayer in the night: For those who work or watch or weep. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

Warren is a priest with the Anglican Church and has a campus ministry with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries. She and her husband and three children live in Pittsburg.

The book begins with Warren’s story about the trauma of her miscarriage. During it, she prayed relentlessly and states that “Faith, I’ve come to believe, is more craft than feeling. And prayer is our chief-practice in the craft” (9).

Warren’s emphasis on prayer centers on “finding Compline,” a prayer of “completion,” the last prayer of the day and the service surrounding it is designed for nighttime (12). It is the silent hours of the night when we are more aware of ourselves and of God. She found the Psalms “staving off the threat of darkness” (13). This is because “every twenty-four hours, nighttime gives us a chance to practice embracing our own vulnerability” (15). And further, “When we pray the prayers we’ve been given by the church—the prayers of the psalmist and the saints, the Lord’s Prayer, the Daily Office—we pray beyond what we can know, believe, or drum up in ourselves” (17). In her circumstances, Warren needed a prayer that would give her comfort “that looked unflinchingly at loss and death” (18).

The matter of trust is paramount when thinking about the way God doesn’t keep bad things from happening to us. We have pain and must contemplate what its redemptive meaning might be because “belief in a transcendent God means we are stuck with the problem of pain” (24). We have to examine what we think God is like—looking at the life of Jesus. It was the prayers and practices of the church that were most helpful.

The second part of the book is called “The Way of the Vulnerable” and refers to Warren’s emphasis on “working, watching, and weeping.” We are vulnerable as we come to “see grief as part of the everyday experience of being human in a world that is both good and cruel’ (39). Two things stand out: 1) we are always in the shadow of death and 2) we must learn to weep (41). We have to make space for grief and unless we do “we cannot know the depths of the love of God, the healing God wrings from pain, the way grieving yields wisdom, comfort, even joy” (43).

Warren reminds us that “Our task is to take up practices where we name, with utter honesty, the brokenness of the world and the promise of what’s to come” (46). She encourages us to pray with the Psalms, which “call us back into the dramatic depths of reality” (47). These include psalms of “lament” in which we learn how to weep. In our culture, we often assume that we know better than God but we need to “weep with the One who alone is able to permanently wipe away our tears” (52).

By talking about “Those who Watch” (Chapter 4), Warren is referring to our “attention,” our yearning and our hope. We can see no more than a few steps ahead and, as we watch, it can bring us fear. What we yearn for is not rooted in “wishful thinking” (or pie in the sky). We have to learn to watch because “Just as our pupils dilate to let in more light, prayer adjusts our eyes to see God in the darkness” (61). We watch for what is around us every moment.

This leads to “restoration” for “Those who Work” (Chapter 5) and we need others to help us in the process. We come to realize that “without leaving space for grief or attentiveness to God, oiur work will be compulsive, frenzied and vain” (75).

Part Three of the book is “A Taxonomy of Vulnerability” and begins with the prayer “Give your angels charge over those who sleep” (Chapter 6) because the “historic church imagined a universe jam packed with angels” (83). In other words, “Prayer expands our imagination about the nature of reality” (86).

The next prayer is to “Tend the Sick, Lord Christ” (Chapter 7) because, as we know, our bodies begin to fall apart. Sickness is “death’s handmaid” and “We don’t choose our preferred crosses, or our resurrections” (99). Health is a gift and “our bodies will be made eternal” so, “We learn to pray to the God who tends us” (102).

“Give Rest to the Weary” (Chapter 8) is a prayer that follows and refers to our weariness (Ecclesiastes 12.12). When our health fails “it cuts us to the core, reveals our trusest, most fragile selves” (107). In such situations, sometimes we have to have prayers of silence, which “is an exercise in tolerating mystery” (111). As the author says, “pray for miraculous healing, and get the will ready” (114). “We pray because we believe that God. who makes no promises of our safety and comfort, loves us and takes care of us” (114).

I agree that “The Christian faith never asks us to be okay with death” and that is not the way it is supposed to be (117). Death is an enemy and is the last one to be defeated. “Jaroslav Pelikan said that ‘Christ comes into the world to teach men how to die’’ and that was certainly what Joice believed. She meditated on her mortality—not something that our culture (or many Christians) will ever get used to.

Another prayer of the Compline is to “Soothe the Suffering” (Chapter 10), providing comfort. Suffering, as the author notes “ebbs and flows” and we do not know when healing will come. However, in our prayers we can “join him [Jesus] in the torment of Gethsemane, the torture of the cross, and the darkness of his own grave” (127). It follows that “We have to feel the things we hate to feel—sadness, loss, loneliness” about which there are no shortcuts. (131). Healing always takes longer than we would like or that we think it should but, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “trust in the slow work of God” (136).

“Pity the Afflicted” is the title and prayer of Chapter 11. Warren states, “I don’t know why God allows affliction, but I do know this: he is found among the afflicted” (144). She notes that prosperity seems to render more doubt than the affliction found in the afflicted (147). She claims that “The shape of our prayers determines the shape of our life” (149) and in the darkness we await the dawn.

Chapter 12 asks that we “Shield the Joyous” showing both gratitude and indifference as we do so. This is because “In this fallen world, joy is risky” and takes courage (151). It can be maddening to those who suffer but Christians should embrace the good and what is joyful, which will remain if we choose it. “To choose joy is to see all existence as a gift “ (157). We learn through our prayers that “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven” (159).

Part four of the book, “Culmination,” reminds us that we are trusting God and that is “All for Your Love’s Sake” (Chapter 13). “The Christian life is more like a poem than an encyclopedia” because our life “Like poetry…has restraints—even rules, like a sonnet” (163).

The final chapter (13) is “And All for Your Love’s Sake” encourages the reader to “honor ambiguity” because there is a lot we cannot know about God (164). However, “We weep because we can lament to one who cares about our sorrow” (165) and this is good news to people like me. I know that “in the end the only way to endure the mystery is to put the whole weight of our [my] life on the love of God” (167). God does not extinguish sorrow and the darkness is not explained, but it is defeated.

The book concludes with discussion questions for each chapter, such as how is waiting and watching a metaphor for the whole life? and do we agree that in our culture “we rush to get over grief?”

I find the exposition and personal notes on the Compline prayer a number of new and helpful thoughts and I have highlighted many of them in this review. Put together the chapters inform me of one variation of the Compline prayer:

Keep watch, Dear Lord over
Those who weep
Those who watch
Those who work
Give your angels charge over those who sleep
Tend the sick, Lord Jesus
Give rest to the weary
Bless the dying
Soothe the suffering
Pity the afflicted
Shield the joyous
And all for your Love’s sake