Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Office of Compline

I suppose it happens to everyone when it is time to prepare for something new: lists appear.

Ok, if you're me then you make lists anyway, but I have a particularly high volume of lists floating around these days. Lists about what to take and what to pack, who to see and who to write, what to buy and what to sell... it's really quite out of hand. I'm also making mental lists of things that should be done. This weekend one of our friends asked what we wish we would have seen or experienced in the Pacific Northwest before we left. I have tons of items on that list (and it is always growing):

  • Touristy things like: The Underground Tour
  • Cities like: Portland, Coeur d'Alene
  • Outdoors: Glacier National Park, The Oregon coast, the Olympics, more San Juan Islands
So this weekend I began to consider things that I hadn't done that I still might be able to do. I remembered something my dear friend John from college had told me while he was visiting in June: "You live in downtown Seattle. I can't believe you haven't experienced Compline." Now, I'm not musically inclined, but for some reason I spent most of my college career with people who are. John was one of the most talented. He even played the organ for our wedding ceremony. That said, I had no idea what he was talking about.

St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral offers the office of compline every Sunday night at 9:30 p.m. According to a brochure I picked up on my way out, Compline is the final church service (or Office) of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours. The English word Compline (pronounced comp-lin) is derived from the Latin word completorium meaning completion. It makes sense -- Compline completes the liturgy of the day. In lay terms, Compline is a prayer for a quiet night and perfect end. Also, at least to me, it is a way to quiet down and focus before starting a new week.

Compline is a beautiful tradition. It dates back to the earliest practices of the monastic communities where Compline was offered when the day's work was ended and the quietness of evening had settled upon the hearts and minds of those gathered in thankfulness for the blessings of the day they had finished. Believe it or not, (ahem, you Zaengers) over time the popularity of Compline spawned a revival of interest in this service and now it is included in the prayer books of Lutheran and Episcopal denominations.

Although we entered and went straight to a pew close to the front, people were scattered everywhere throughout the sanctuary. There were people laying down, journaling, praying, and reclining on the alter. It was like we had missed the come-in-and-make-yourself-at-home memo. Soon, the choir began and we realized it was positioned at the back corner of the church -- meant to be listened to, not watched.

They chanted prayer, then Psalm 103. They sang comforting hymns and chanted both the Apostles Creed and the Lord's Prayer. There was even a time for the confession of sins. It was beautiful. It was calming. I wish I could have a Compline every night.*

As if the Compline wasn't beautiful enough, we were fortunate to hear a post-Compline organ concert. John's love of organ had left me curious so we stuck around for three pieces played by a talented musician who couldn't have been older than 20. This organ was build with serious music in mind: 58 stops, 79 ranks, and 3,944 pipes! It was spectacular.

It was a quiet night and perfect end.

*You don't have to be in Seattle to hear Compline. I found out that podcasts are available for download at and the service is broadcast live on 98.1 KING-FM and online at Good news for a future NYC transplant.

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