Releasing Fear: A Compline Liturgy

(Note: A downloadable PDF of the compline liturgy below is available here.)

Compline is an evening liturgy, a prayer before sleeping, practiced by monastic communities. The liturgy includes an opportunity to reflect on the day and to set one’s spirit at rest for peaceful sleep in preparation for the next day.

I’ve felt a strong need for a Compline practice. I don’t live in community so mine will be a compromised practice. I’ll recite it in private, in privation. Privation from the shared support and challenge of others seeking a similar reflection, peace, and rest.

The work God’s been doing in my life recently has included my becoming aware of how much of how I function revolves around protecting myself. I procrastinate on things I know need to be done, even things I want to do, because I fear some risk of things going wrong. I hold back in conversations or avoid contacting people for fear of hurting them or, more often, getting hurt.

My fear of hurting people is caught up in a fear of fracturing my own identity. It’s much more selfish than it sounds. I don’t want to have to face my own arrogance, my own self-absorption, my own failure to love those around me fully and selflessly. If I keep to myself I can avoid the risk of discovery. Others might still think highly of me, even when it’s unwarranted. My self image as a good person can remain intact.

My habits of retreating and hiding work well for me much of the time. For the most part nobody gets hurt by the process. Unless of course my retreat from others is the thing that hurts them, which has happened in many of my relationships. There is no escape from life with others and all the beauty and pain that involves.

So I’ve written this Compline for myself in order to follow God’s prompting to cease hiding and to face my fears. I’ve used three biblical passages that are standard to Compline practices and have written two Examen prayers to lead me toward reflection. I can reflect on the way fear has infected my day. By naming my fears I can reveal to myself their foolishness. Life in the presence of God, whose steadfast love for me endures forever, renders my everyday anxieties ridiculous. After facing the fears of my day I can then plan for the coming day, setting some intentions for small actions of faithful courage.

The “translations” of the biblical passages are my own. They represent my wrestling with biblical words and concepts that have become calcified and empty in their usage. I work from multiple translations including interlinear translations which include the original language. As I rework somnolent words into phrases that shake me awake I also experiment with the rhythms of modern free verse poetry.

This liturgy is a practice I’ve designed for myself. I’m sharing it here in case others have similar struggles and may find it helpful. Let me know if you try this practice. I’m curious how it goes for you, especially any ways it might be improved.

Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you always.


Pray Before Sleeping:

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

from Psalm 4

Hear me when I cry out,
God of justice.
When I was pressed down
you expanded my world.
Have mercy.
Hear my prayer.

My children,
how long will you continue to turn My glory
into shame?
How long will you love empty, vain words
and seek after lies?

I know that Yahweh has set apart the faithful.
Yahweh will hear my cry.
In your fear do not wrong others.
Examine your fear.
Be still.
Offer yourself
as a just and holy sacrifice
to Yahweh.

Many will say, “Who will take care of us?
Bless us now, Yahweh!”
But You have already given me a spirit of gladness,
more precious than all the wealth and comfort they seek.
I will lie down and sleep in shalom
for in you alone, Yahweh, I rest secure.

Examen of Daily Work

What struggles in my daily work haunt me? What injustices weigh heavy on me?
Where can I offer these to Yahweh rather than holding them for myself?

How can I participate in God’s work rather than carrying the world on my own strength?
Where have I lashed out? What have I avoided?
Where have I held tightly to comforting lies?

How might these reveal hidden fears?
Name the fears.
Rest in God.

What step will I take to move forward into a thing I fear tomorrow, walking in shalom?

from Psalm 133

How precious it is
when the family of God seeks and finds
dwelling together in shalom.

It’s like costly fragrant oil
dripping down Aaron’s head and onto his beard,
anointing him for priestly service in God’s work,
anointing us for priestly service in God’s work.

It pours down even to the hem of Aaron’s robe
as the dew pours down God’s holy mountain,
God’s dwelling place among us,
where God speaks into being for us
lasting life together.

Examen of Relationships

When have I remained silent when I could have shared myself?
When have I presented a false image of myself to hide my shame?

When have I hidden from God?
When have I hidden from myself?
From what am I protecting myself?

How might I dwell in the steadfast love of God, finding the security
to connect,
to risk rejection,
to confess,
to forgive,
to reconcile?

What step will I take to move forward in a relationship tomorrow, walking in shalom?

from Luke 2:29-31
(Nunc Dimittis, The Canticle of Simeon)

Now let Your servant depart in peace
according to Your promise,
for my eyes have seen the healing of all things
which you have prepared in the presence
of everyone,
a revealing light for those
who were once not your people
and glory for your chosen people Israel.

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

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