When we heard that Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches had called for a global candlelight vigil for peace Sunday night, March 16, 2003, we got to thinking about vigil-keeping as a spiritual practice for wartime. This time-honored way of responding to danger, crisis, and even death is practiced in most religious traditions and is closely associated with monastic Christianity.
The word derives from a verb that means "watch" in both the sense of "observe" and "guard." A vigil is a time of intense wakefulness. The Bible is full of stories about people keeping watch, especially during times of great difficulty and concern for others. Vigils may be silent or filled with wails and lamentations. In the Christian tradition, they are seen as experiences in which we become aware of God's presence — watching God watching us.
We kept these traditional understandings of vigil-keeping in mind during an unprecedented global vigil on March 16, 2003. Not only did participants join people from all over the world, they were be connected through this ancient practice with a cloud of witnesses.
Our readings look at the how vigils have been used in the context of the spiritual life.
• Mary Margaret Funk on Vigil-Keeping in Everyday Life
In her excellent workbook on Christian practices Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life, Funk looks at the roots of vigils and examines two types: the vigil as part of a daily rule of life and the vigil during an occasion of concern for another.
• Marcy Heidish on Vigils as a Path through the Valley of the Shadow
Heidish's book A Candle at Midnight specifically addresses the value of vigil-keeping for those suffering from depression. But as she writes about this "spiritual way to face life's stretches of difficulty, uncertainty, and waiting," it's clear that this practice has application for many other situations, including standing up for peace. "A vigil," she writes, "is an offering of your time and presence to be specially aware of God."
Light a Candle as a Pledge of Peace.
You can still join this worldwide witness. Visit Gratefulness.org and light a virtual candle.