Sunday Telegraph recently interviewed Professor Till Roenneberg of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilans University, author of Internal Times:
Roenneberg, who might be the world’s foremost authority on body clocks, is very worried that a terrible thing is happening to them. The modern world is sending them out of whack. In fact, he explains, we are torn between two types of clocks – the real clocks in our brains, and the clocks we put on our wrists, on our walls, in our pockets, and on our bedside tables. These are not so real. Roenneberg calls them “social clocks”. And in the battle between the clocks, the fake clocks are winning.
Summarising Roenneberg's research, the Sunday Telegraph states, "our bodies want to live according to the sun, rather than the alarm clock". This sense of the 'giveness' of time, light, night and sleep is confronted by both the practices and conventions of late modernity. In Roenneberg's words:
Modern society regards sleep as superfluous – something we should get rid of ... As if we need a cure for sleep.
This does bring to mind the counter-cultural significance of Compline. As the Common Worship introduction to the office of Compline notes:
The ancient office of Compline derives its name from a Latin word meaning 'completion' (completorium). It is above all a service of quietness and reflection at the end of the day. It is most effective when the ending is indeed an ending, without additions, conversation or noise.
The cycle of daily prayer ending with Compline is a reassertion of the 'giveness' of our living over and against the 'false clocks', the rejection of the silence and rest of the night hours as "superfluous". Perhaps not so much in rural or suburban communities, but in cities it does suggest that one way the Church can testify to a different way of living is through the communal celebration of Compline. There are examples of Anglican churches doing just this. It is also worth noting that the Catholic Underground experience concludes with the praying of Compline:
We end our evening as we began. With the prayer of the Church. Compline (Night Prayer) is simple and beautiful. It concludes with a hymn to Our Lady, Daughter Zion. Mother of the New Jerusalem.
In her collection Patience after Compline, Canadian poet Marya Flamengo's "Nunc Dimittis" reflects something of how Compline attunes us to 'giveness':
This sorrow sits on summer
knows of autumn
lives in winter
ponder the bruise
Restoring the completion of the ancient cycle of daily prayer may be far from some manifestations of 'Fresh Expressions', but within the cities of late modernity - shaped by the virtual and the artificial - it could point to a different way, a way which receives the Triune God's gifts of night and rest with a thankful, patient heart.