The secret of a contented life is to learn how to end the day well. Nature’s ‘Evensong’ has some lessons for us.
Earlier in the day I’ve been entertained and amused by a flock of young blue tits following the parent excitedly from bush to bush in our front garden – an exceptionally late sight. Blue tits normally have only one brood in spring. Has anyone seen anything similar recently? But now, the sun is setting and as dusk approaches, a measure of stillness descends as the ever noisy traffic lessens. What welcome relief! Similarly the winds of the day die down as they so often do after sunset.
‘It is a beauteous evening, calm and free‘ (Wordsworth).
Clearly it’s time to unwind!
Now in the garden all is quiet, at least nearly so. Earlier in the autumn there might have been a rustling hedgehog as it scurries across the lawn on its hunt for earthworms. Now a late robin sings his autumnal evensong from a nearby bush, encouraged into song by the lights from the house perhaps? One of the delights of spring time is to hear a late singing song thrush, serenading us from the top of a garden tree as the darkness falls. But now, it’s only a lone blackbird giving an alarm cry as it’s disturbed by something in the hedge. Then there’s a slight rustling as it and other birds settle back into their roosts.
The temperature is falling rapidly. The church tower clock strikes the hour, the sound magnified by the still air. A dog barks briefly in the village somewhere. Once a week there’s evening bell practice at the church as the sound rings out over the village roof tops. But tonight, the bells are still. If it wasn’t so cold I’d like to stay out here for a while. Hopefully those baby blue tits are safe and warm somewhere for the night. There’s a welcome calm stillness as the working day comes peacefully to an end.
It’s interesting to note that in Jewish reckoning the day begins at sundown. This dates back to Genesis 1 where we read of the 7 days of Creation that evening comes first:
‘the evening and the morning – were the first..second…third..day’.
.. just now it was only dusk, and already the interior of the wood is impenetrable to the glance. There rises a loud though distant clamour of rooks and (jack) daws, who have restlessly moved in their roost-trees. Darkness is almost on them, yet they cannot quite settle. The cawing and dawing rises to a pitch, and then declines; the wood is silent, and it is suddenly night.
Richard Jefferies From ‘A Sussex wood in January’
The rooks settle after their day and so should we. The traditional church services of Evening Prayer (Evensong) and Compline (Night Prayers) remind us to end the day on the right note— making sure we rest at peace with God and our neighbours. The Bible’s wise advice ‘don’t let the sun go down on your wrath‘ needs to be heeded if we want a relaxed sleep. Internal ‘agro’ does not make for a restful night!
The Blessing of Sleep
How good that life comes in ‘day sized’ portions giving us time to lay cares aside and welcome the blessing of sleep and rest. Perhaps, after what may have been a difficult day, the relief of night arrives bringing rest and the promise of a fresh new start tomorrow morning. How often a new day brings answers to yesterday’s problems, sees us finding objects that were lost, remembering things we had forgotten and discovering the inspiration that we seemed to lack the day before.
Wordsworth, after some nights when sleep has not come, (despite counting many sheep!) reaffirms the value of this great blessing:
Without Thee what is all the morning’s wealth?
Come, blesséd barrier between day and day,
Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health!
From his poem ‘To Sleep’
Thank you for joining me. I hope you end your day well too, with ‘fresh thoughts and joyous health’ for tomorrow.
Next Time we look at Gilbert White’s famous ‘Natural History of Selborne’