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Asking the clergy: Why are prayers said at bedtime?

Mark Genszler

Mark Genszler Credit: St. Francis Episcopal Church

Although weary from the events of the day, people of many faiths end their day with a bedtime prayer before drifting off to sleep. This week’s clergy discuss why we thank the Creator, and ask for divine protection, until the morning light.

The Rev. Mark Genszler

St. Francis Episcopal Church, North Bellmore

Prayers are said at bedtime to bless, to meditate on our own end, and to commend the day to God’s keeping so we may rest in peace. Christianity inherits from its monastic heritage what it shares with Jews and Muslims: the call to “sanctify time” itself, with regular prayer at intervals around the clock. Some Christian monastic communities pause for prayer nine times during the day. Bedtime prayer isn’t only for the young. Growing up, visiting my Long Island grandmother involved prayers at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. I can still repeat her delightful sing-song cadence, preparing the way for sleep for my brothers and me. She was blessing us, naming the events of the day, the concerns of the heart, and our cosmic self-position of dependency as we closed our eyes in peace. This is good for children; it is existentially and spiritually necessary for us all. The evening brings to mind the ending of the day and suggests the ending of our lives and of all things. But, this need not frighten us. As I drift off into subconscious travels these days, I often summon this prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: “O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world lies hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last.”

The Rev. Dyanne Pina

Executive director for the Long Island Council of Churches, effective June 1

Bedtime prayers have been a part of my life ever since my mother taught me this 18th century prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

As a little girl I did not understand why the Lord should keep my soul or why the Lord should take my soul if I died in my sleep. What I did know, God was watching over me and that was a calming feeling right before I closed my eyes. At the end of each day it is a good practice to pray before sleeping. Spending just a few minutes asking God to safeguard us from worry, from harm and to secure us in his love, gives us solace. David, the shepherd boy who became king, also entrusted the Lord with his life and with his worries prior to rest, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.” (Psalm 4:8). Since a little girl, I have come to fully understand that my soul belongs to the Lord and that if I die before I wake, my soul is in the care of the Lord; an assurance that gives me peace and comfort. Prayers at bedtime are not just for children. Bedtime prayer is for all of us … young, old and in between, providing respite before the dawn of another day.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman

The Community Synagogue, Port Washington

How do we want to begin and end our day? For Jews, we begin our day with gratitude, thanking God for the gifts that the new day brings, and especially for the renewal of our souls. At the end of the day, the bedtime liturgy revolves around the Shema, which focuses on the oneness of God and our love for God, accompanied by other prayers asking for God’s support and protection through the night. We might assume that bedtime would be the time for giving thanks for all that has happened to us during the day, but for a person of faith, we begin the day with thanks, grateful simply to be alive. And at the end of the day the prayers reveal that it is the nighttime, when the sky is dark, that we feel most afraid and alone. At that time we recite prayers looking to God as our guardian and protector. In the Hashkiveinu prayer, part of the bedtime liturgy, we ask for God to shield us against a whole variety of worldly afflictions, and we call on God to “spread over us the shelter of Your peace.” In these words I always imagine that we are asking God to tuck us in at night, wanting to feel God’s parental presence at the end of each day. The night can be a scary time, but when you pray and feel God’s nearness, sleep can begin with a feeling of warmth and comfort.

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