Vigil is a word which comes from the Latin word meaning keep awake. Originally Vigils were kept on the day before major feasts. 1st November is All Saints Day and therefore October 31st is the Vigil of All Saints, when people would watch and pray, often by the graves of their loved ones.
In our own time vigils have become synonymous with tragedy. After each horrible event there is a vigil. I remember after the Virginia Tech shooting (we were only a few miles away and lost people in our community) opening up the Church the building filling with people who just needed somewhere to go and be for a while. There are all sorts of reasons why people turn up at Vigils. There is that sense of helplessness in the face of something we cannot control; doing something helps. But there is also an element of witness, that folk are united in sorrow and condemnation of acts which deprive other’s of life. We have seen this is Squirrel Hill this week.
There is a time to keep vigil in mourning and solidarity. Then there is a time to keep vigil waiting on God’s word. There is no quick answer and whilst we listen to God with one ear we have to make a real effort to listen to each other with the other. Active listening, not just reactive listening, means that we expect to go away from a place changed. We expect God to change us and we can expect to be changed by each other when we leave the crowd and the night and begin on our journey as people who stay awake and are not deluded by the dreams of our own longings.