Vigils, or Lying Awake in The Middle of The Night

Dedicated to all the adults I know who, especially as they grow older, struggle to sleep through the night, including myself.

Michael J. Bennett, Wikimiedia Commons

Michael J. Bennett, Wikimiedia Commons

Vigils, from the Latin vigilia, “wakefulness”: a period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, the monastic night office.


Part of adulthood, it seems

is waking up at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.

and spending some time

in involuntary (often anxious)


Is this really the weakness

of an aging body and mind,

or in fact, a growing awareness

of the eternal?


At 2 a.m., our side of the earth

faces outward, away from the sun,

into the infinite darkness of the universe.

Eternity, I think, is what wakes us up,

asking us to look it in the face

with wonder and dread.


Asking us to listen to the silence,

but also, the heart beating,

children sleeping, and the night wind.

Or to hear the police and fire sirens,

ambulances screaming.


Asking us, I think, to pray

for those who work while others sleep.

For those who the night keeps hidden,

prostitutes, runaways, and drunks.

For the injured, the sick, the dying,

the alone.


Asking us to remember

that we’re not alone

when we’re awake

in the middle of the night.


Asking us to contemplate

a crack in the ceiling,

an infinite cosmos.


Asking us to ponder God’s glory

and our finitude.


This is the work of adults.


(copyright Heidi R. Haverkamp, 2014)


  1. I taught a class on the Daily Office this past weekend and shared the several times a day suggested for prayer in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. He says, “at midnight, arise and wash your hands and pray.” His advice to wake your wife with you, however, I am too afraid to put into practice.

  2. Charity Humm says:

    This is lovely

  3. Kara Wagner Sherer says:

    Thank you for this moving reflection and incredible poetry. My words feel trite and unable to express the power and wisdom of your words.


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