17 Feb Night Duty
by Fr. Bob Wild
These days at Madonna House, both laymen and priests do night duty. But in my early days, it was the priest-poustiniks (those of us living a certain kind of contemplative vocation) who performed this service, which consists of turning out all the lights after everyone has gone back to their dorms, locking doors, and generally, putting the main house compound to bed.
Despite its quite homey and practical character, there is something very priestly about it. It’s like giving the final blessing to the day’s activity and sealing the premises and the doors and windows against all nightly specters. I came to kind of like it.
I say “came to” because I haven’t always appreciated it in the way I’ve just described.
Now everything is neatly organized. Each man is on for a week, and there is a schedule to follow. It wasn’t always so.
In the early, “prehistoric” period of priests doing night duty, schedules were a bit more “unspecified,” shall we say. And you did night duty for two weeks in a row.
On one occasion, I was assigned to night duty, and I accepted it with the ordinary generosity of an ordinary member of Madonna House, consciously desiring to do my ordinary best.
At the end of the two weeks, I expected that, in the ordinary way, someone else would be on night duty, and I would be off it. It didn’t happen.
With a little extra-ordinary generosity, I decided to “walk the extra mile” and not say anything. Two days passed, three. I started to fear that something was wrong. At the end of the third week I panicked. Something was wrong!
It’s possible that they had forgotten about the change of guard. Then I made (what I thought was) a really heroic decision. I would take on two periods in a row.
During this fourth week I really was (I thought) being very generous; I was careful of thoughts of pride.
As the beginning of the fifth week began, I was tempted to inform somebody about what was happening. But for some reason or other, this did not seem the right thing to do. I felt that God was about to teach me something valuable, so I thought I’d abandon myself to his plans.
At the beginning of the sixth week, I entered the first stages of denial. This is not happening to me! This has gone too far! I was strongly tempted to tell somebody. But, still, something within me said to wait, trust, abandon.
At the beginning of the seventh week, anger grew at those whose fault this was, coupled with a growing conviction that nobody really cared about me. (During the middle of this week, I was absolutely convinced that nobody cared about me!)
At the beginning of the eighth week, I was struggling with forgiving the enemy, forgiving all those responsible for this situation.
At the beginning of the ninth week, a general numbness set in; all noble, generous, forgiving sentiments were gone. I experienced a state of negative indifference rather than positive, holy indifference.
It was not until the beginning of the tenth week that the first light concerning God’s purpose in it all dawned on me. Why should my peace and happiness depend on this wholly external situation? Christ is my life. Christ is my peace.
God showed me very clearly that all these sources of unpeace were in my own heart, and that is why I had to submit, forgive, endure. It was the lack of freedom in my own heart which gave the appearance that there were forces “out there” disturbing my peace.
God said in my heart, “They are all in your own heart. If you accept that they are in there and abandon yourself to my will, I will give you real peace.”
At the end of the eleventh week, I began to enter a new realm of existence. I was no longer doing night duty with negative acceptance; I wasn’t just enduring it. I was living in the awareness that this was God’s will for me for that moment. This was a new way of life, a taste of the kingdom.
It was sometime during the twelfth week that someone nonchalantly asked me, “How long have you been on night duty?”
I said (and really, it was without any anger or malice or heroics; I had gone through all that), “Oh, about three months.”
A look of horror mingled with disbelief came over his face. “Three months!” he said.
“Yes, three months.”
In such a situation he might have said, “Why didn’t you say something,” or “I’m sorry there was a mistake.” And I might have said something silly like, “Oh, that’s all right,” or “I didn’t mind.”
He just said, “Well, I’ll get somebody else for next week,” and I just said, “Thanks.”
I remember walking back to the poustinia, not in any virtuously triumphant way but quite humbled and quiet, because God had taught me a great secret, one I hope I never forget.