I first consciously welcomed the dawn at a cottage we rented each June on Colpoys Bay at the base of Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula.
One morning I happened upon sunrise – yellows, pinks and purples, first muted then magnificent. The next day I deliberately rose before five a.m. to sit by the window with my cup of coffee, waiting. I marveled that each morning without fail the light increases.
I noticed the simplest of things: the ripple reaching towards shore as a fishing boat glides by; a set of headlights bobbing along the far shore; a family of ducks foraging near the water’s edge – and a lone pine jutting from the cedar grove, standing at attention.
In a burst of praise I wrote: “My gaze lifts beyond the water’s smooth surface to face into sunrise. It beckons so brightly, promising a new day. How can I not stand at attention? How can I not open my arms in welcome?”
…Now, eight years later, welcoming the dawn is one of my morning sitting practices. At least once a week – more often in wintertime – I light a candle and sit in silence, watching the light increase outside our tenth floor condo windows.
Sometimes I begin my sit at the stage called nautical dawn. My eyes register a blacked out section – the golf course – just across the road. Beyond it, street lights twinkle. High posts and bobbing headlights delineate the expressway in the near distance. Traffic lights turn red and green in the far distance.
Since I’m facing southwest, I can’t actually see the sun rise. But I notice the black sky moving almost imperceptibly towards a deep grey, then to a lighter grey or blue. Soon the trees of the golf course reappear, and eventually the twinkling street lights fade away….
Sometimes my sitting practice begins later, during the golden hour, when the treetops already glow in low beams of sunlight and the sun reflects off high rise towers in downtown Kitchener.
Then I’m reminded of a prayer poem by Dom Helder Camara. He imagines skyscrapers in the golden light of morning participating in “creation’s hymn of praise.” (From A Thousand Reasons for Living, Fortress Press, 1981).
As I watch the light increase or revel in the golden hour of morning sunlight, I too participate in “creation’s hymn of praise.” In my own way, I observe the morning hour called Lauds by Christians, Shacharit by Jews, and Salat al-fajr by Muslims.
When I’m at St. John’s Convent at Lauds, I join with the sisters in chanting the promise-filled Song of Zechariah:
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78-79 NRSV)
Yet the impulse toward morning praise also moved the non-liturgical Mennonite congregation of my childhood. Perhaps the oft-sung I Owe the Lord a Morning Song was our Lauds. Lancaster County Mennonite preacher Amos Herr wrote “I owe the Lord a morning song/of gratitude and praise/for the kind mercy he has shown/in lengthening out my days.” It appears in all the 20th century Mennonite hymnals under the tune name GRATITUDE.
For years I dismissed it. I thought I’d sung it too often. Now I’m reclaiming it….
Questions for reflection:
Do you have a sitting, walking or jogging practice to welcome the day?
If so, what prompts you to praise during that time?
Next Week: Singing Sands, Showy Lady Slippers and Sabbath Rest