“Evening” is a gentle word, lambent with possibilities.
A fellow church musician once said to me, “On Sunday evening your life passes before you.” He was describing the cycle of life we church musicians experience every week as we look forward to playing on a Sunday morning, then come down afterward. Sunday evening is the nadir of that fall.
Or Miss Perry used to say to me, “The evening is still a pup.” She was a “night owl,” and of her many expressions, this may be my favorite. I would have arrived at her house for my twice-weekly 8:15 p.m. organ lessons and would be still listening to her at 9:30 p.m.. When I offered a yawn in response to her topic of the moment, she would declare that, “The evening is still a pup.”
And then there is “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.” Those words were offered by an English minister by the name of H. F. Lyte in a sermon not long before his own death. Of course, he altered”evening” a bit so it would rhyme with “abide,” but the meaning is the same. Thus: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.” When combined with the tune composed by another English minister, William H. Monk, “Abide with me” became a world famous hymn.
I am currently 66 years of age, and might honestly be regarded as in the evening of my life. Of course, I like to think that my dusk has hardly been approached, but the fact is that I am no longer even middle-aged. I played for a memorial service just last week of a woman who died four days short of her 91st birthday. I did not know her at all, but if the number of people crying at her service was an indicator, she was a wonderful person who touched many lives in a meaningful way. So my thinking about the evening of life is no accident.
One of the most fascinating commentaries on life I have ever read appears in the essay “Children in the Woods” by Barry Lopez (b.1945). The essay appear in his volume, “Crossing Open Ground.” Barry Lopez has taken some children into the forest to see what they can discover, trees, flowers, animals, and detritus, and he is trying to show the children how all of these elements fit together. And so he writes: “The indestructibility of these associations conveys a sense of permanence that nurtures the heart, that cripples one of the most insidious of human anxieties, the one that says, you do not belong here, you are unnecessary.”(p. 150)
Although “Children in the Woods” is uplifting, the second half of that sentence captures the dark side of life. And for those people who feel they “do not belong” or are “unnecessary,” their very lives are spent not in the evening, but in the nighttime of their existence.
“God that madest earth and heaven” speaks of even “night” in a positive manner. Discussed on p. 440 of the John Julian “Dictionary of Hymnology,” all of its stanzas are a consolation, no matter the time of day indicated. Just the opening verse will suffice: “God that madest earth and heaven, darkness and light; Thou the day for work has given, for rest the night. May your angels guards defend us, slumber sweet your mercy send us, Holy dreams and hopes attend us all through the night.”
The discerning words of Barry Lopez notwithstanding, the night has possibilities, too.