Have you ever sacrificed sleep to experience the sun rise? It is a truly magnificent event. It’s the type of thing that happens everyday that we take for granted because we are not present. So much of the beauty and majesty in life we miss because we are not present. Not centered. But raging all over with thoughts of what to do and not do, of bullets to strike off a never-ending to-do list. Or else we lack the discipline to be prepared–to be at the right time and the right place to experience something valuable. Beauty is fleeting, yes, but if you don’t plan and take active steps to corner it, you will miss it entirely. Worse, you will think it does not exist.
So as a spiritual discipline, I challenge you to plan, be prepared, and present to witness the dawn at some point in this coming week. For Orthodox Christians who follow the liturgical cycle, dawn is part of everyday. It is how we are born into the new day. Most matins start before the break of dawn, four or five am. As the psalms are sung, the light of dawn paints a soft brush over the darkness of night. The songbirds signal its entrance with spontaneous madrigals. And of course, that golden orb, that mystical sun cracks just at the tip of the horizon bathing the world in blessed light. It is a triumph of light over darkness day after day. It is a miracle. And we miss it because we prefer to sleep. The few times I have witnessed the dawn, during early morning services at a monastery, after all-night partying on the islands of the Cyclades, walking up Mount Sinai at Saint Katherine’s monastery, as a young mother nursing my firstborn, after agonizing insomnia as a result of anxiety and depression, I have never forgotten it. Every dawn is unique, just like a birth.
One of my bucket list endeavors is to live in a place where I can see the sun rise and the sun set–every single day. The daybreak brings order to the rest of the day; if you greet it mindfully like you would a baby about to be born, it sets the course for the rest of the day. It is not harried nor hurried.
Plus, for a photographer and an artist, the dawn presents a spectacular display of color. I could be painting and shooting images every single day if I had the liberty.
It is not coincidental that I came across this “Prayer for Daybreak” during one of my sleepless nights. It is not coincidental that it was written by Father Sophrony of Essex. It was this year that I was blessed to visit the monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex and see his cell: a sparse cell, extremely cold and humid, with a hospital bed and a lever to lift his frail body. It has become one of my most endearing prayers. I make sure to start the day with the dawn and this prayer. After all, what do you have but one dawn, one day, one prayer?
Prayer at Daybreak
O Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, in your inscrutable goodness you have called me into this life and have given me the grace of baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have instilled in me the desire to seek your face. Hear my prayer!
I have no life, no light, no joy, no strength, no wisdom without you, O God. Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not lift my eyes in your presence. But I obey you who said:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11)
Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father He will give it to you in my name. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16)
Therefore I now dare to approach you. Purify me from all stain of flesh and spirit. Teach me to pray rightly. Bless this day which you give to me, your unworthy servant.
By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and to act with a pure spirit to your glory; with faith, hope and love, humility, patience, gentleness, peace, purity, simplicity, sobriety, courage and wisdom. Let me always be aware of your presence.
In your boundless goodness, O Lord God, show me your will and grant me to walk in your sight without sin.
O Lord, unto whom all hearts are open, you know what I need and what is necessary for me. You know my blindness and my ignorance. You know my infirmity and corruption. My pain and anguish are not hidden from you. Therefore I beg you: Hear my prayer and teach me by the power of your Holy Spirit the way in which I should walk. And when my perverted will leads me otherwise, O Lord, do not spare me, but force me back to your way.
Grant me, Lord, to hold fast to what is good by the power of your love. Preserve me from every word and act which corrupts the soul, and from every impulse that is unpleasing in your sight and harmful to the people around me. Teach me what I should say and how I should speak. If it be your holy will that I be quiet and make no answer, inspire me to be silent in a peaceful spirit that causes neither harm nor hurt to my fellow human beings.
Establish me in the path of your commandments, and until my last breath do not let me stray from the light of your ordinances. May your commandments be the sole law of my being in this life and for all eternity.
O Lord, I pray to you: Have mercy on me. Spare me in my affliction and misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.
In my foolishness, O God, I plead with you for many and great things. Yet I am ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness. Have pity on me! Cast me not away from your presence because of my foolish presumption. Increase rather in me the right presumption of your grace and grant that I, the worst of people, may love you with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul and all my strength, as you have commanded.
By your Holy Spirit, Lord, teach me good judgment and sound knowledge. Let me know the truth before I die. Maintain my life in this world until the end that I may offer worthy repentance. Do not take me away while my mind is still blind and bound by darkness. When you are pleased to end my life, give me warning that I may prepare my soul to come before you. Be with me, Lord, at that awesome hour and assure me by your grace of the joy of my salvation.
Cleanse me from secret faults. Purify me from hidden iniquities. Give me a good answer at your dread judgment seat.
Lord of great mercy and measureless love for all people: Hear my prayer! Amen.