WE KNOW THE STORY of Hansel and Gretel (re-created as a short opera by Engelbert Humperdinck in 1893) - The family is desperately poor and mother has come home with a pitcher of milk. Overjoyed, the brother and sister sing and dance, the pitcher is knocked over and the milk is lost. In a fury the mother sends the children into the woods to collect wild strawberries.
Neither is paying attention to the time, how long they've been gone or what path's been taken. They suddenly become aware of how late it is, that it is getting dark and the forest is now alien. Tired and sure they'll not find their way back home, they settle down to sleep under the trees next to each other. But first they sing their Evening Prayer, inviting angels to watch and protect through the night - fourteen angels to be exact. They are not disappointed as a winged and mystic company gathers around them.
We can pray the prayer as well, mindful of the symbolic themes, naming for ourselves:
- Our own inner poverty and littleness
- Human brokenness
- The lost path
- Vulnerability in what we would call deep darkness
- Our fatigue and fears of the unknown
- The nearness of evil (the witch lives nearby)
When at night I go to sleep;
Fourteen angels watch to keep;
Two my head are guarding;
Two my feet are guiding;
Two are on my right hand;
Two are on my left hand;
Two who warmly cover;
Two who o'er me hover;
Two to whom 'tis given;
To guide my steps to heaven.
Sleeping softly, then it seems;
Heaven enters in my dreams;
Angels hover round me;
Whispering they have found me;
Two are sweetly singing;
Two are garlands bringing;
Strewing me with roses;
As my soul reposes;
God will not forsake me;
When dawn at last will wake me.
We can listen to the prayer sung right here in both English and the original German.