Le Point Vierge and The Epiphany

Fr. Matthew Kelty sadly died last year ( you can read my post here) and in this short video below he delivers a beautiful homily truly moving especially towards the end.

We also see glimpses into the monastic life at the Abbey of Gethsemani where Thomas Merton lived and the opening shots of early morning and the birdsong beautifully echo Merton's reflection from The Book of Hours at the tail end of this post.

"Not everyone can be a monk, but every Christian is called to develop within his or her life a dimension of silence and solitude in order to become aware of the inner self.
Thomas Merton contended, it is crucial to come to an awareness of the true self in order to come to an awareness of God. As he explained:
"If we are involved only in our surface existence, in externals, and in the trivial concerns of our ego, we are untrue to Him and to ourselves. To reach a true awareness of Him as well as ourselves, we have to renounce our selfish and limited self and enter into a whole new kind of existence, discovering an inner center of motivation and love which makes us see ourselves and everything else in an entirely new light ....
The real sense of our own existence, which is normally veiled and distorted by the routine distractions of an alienated life, is now revealed in a central intuition.
What was lost and dispersed in the relative meaninglessness and triviality of purposeless behavior (living like a machine, pushed around by impulsions and suggestions from others) is brought together in fully integrated conscious significance."

"Knights of the Desert" Tuareg of Daraj, Libya by Bashar Shglila
  - Source

Merton's passage above and the one below attracted me as I have been reflecting on this Sunday's scriptures and Gospel of the magi whose purpose and reason for leaving their homes and travelling a vast distance to encounter the child of Jesus is a good metaphor for our searching for Christ.

In the passage below the term of the point of meeting is described as "le point verge" and maybe that is a good description of what the magi and the shepherds and even Mary and Joseph were gifted to receive at the birth of Christ. 

This Christmas when I stood in front of the nativity scene in my church I didn't have the benefit of these words but in hindsight the experience I had comes close to the description given below: the experience of that "still point of existence that belongs totally to God."

The magi were graced with a vision of "pure diamond" in the form of a star, blazing for them as a sign : "an intuition (an immediate apprehension) of the Reality in which our being is truly grounded -- God. "

Christ continues to allow me the gift of that experience to be realised again and again in the gift of the Eucharist .

"Influenced by the tradition of the Rhineland mystics John Tauler, Henry Suso, and especially Meister Eckhart, Merton came to a profound realization of the presence of God at the core of our being.
He spoke of "le point vierge," an apex, or still point, the "center of our nothingness where one meets God -- and is found completely in His mercy."
Merton's most extended description of le point vierge is here :
"At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.
This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship.
It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. 
To become aware of this point at the center requires that we confront our own contingency and death so that we might arrive, or, rather, be given an intuition (an immediate apprehension) of the Reality in which our being is truly grounded -- God. 

One must, according to Merton, face the poverty of the self and be ready to renounce "the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness," precisely "in order, to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of 'being nothing'." 

Maybe that is what the magi intuitively realised as they were about to enter the manger, and a profound awareness that all their gifts were nothing in comparison to the treasure of Christ that would encounter them there.

The Magi- Fresco in Cappodocia- Source

In this "desert of loneliness and emptiness the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory," and one begins to realize that the void is full and that the darkness is light.

And so "in the heart of anguish are found the gifts of peace and understanding": compulsion, fear, and illusion yield to joy, spontaneity, and truth?
Moreover, Merton insists, this experience does not end merely in personal illumination and individual liberation; it also includes a profound realization of the unity that binds us all together, the "hidden ground of love." 

Brian Kershisnik The Nativity- Source

For in awakening to our own true identity, we find not only ourselves, but also the world, our sisters and brothers, and Christ. "It is not a matter of exclusivism and 'purity' but of wholeness, wholeheartedness, unit and... equality which finds the same ground of love in everything."

The result then of contemplative silence and solitude should not be narcissistic self-absorption, but profound compassion for everyone and everything, a compassion which expresses itself in empathy and commitment.

Above is edited extract from Albert J. Raboteau: A Hidden Wholeness: Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr. from here

The reflection below is taken from Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, compiled by Kathleen Deignan from his writings. (Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2007) and builds on the phrase "point vierge" mentioned in the previous passage.

The first chirps of the waking birds mark the "point vierge" of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes.
They speak to Him, not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the "point vierge."

Their condition asks if it is time for them to "be"? He answers "Yes."

Then they one by one wake up, and become birds. They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing. Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly.

Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to "be" once again, as it did on the first morning that ever was.

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself at that blind sweet point.
Man's wisdom does not succeed, for we have fallen into self mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone.
We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose. We know the time and we dictate the terms. We know what time it is.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell, but the virgin point between darkness and light, Between nonbeing and being.

So they wake: first the catbirds and cardinals. Later the song sparrows and the wrens. Last of all the doves and the crows.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off "one to his farm and another to his merchandise."

Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.

"Wisdom," cries the dawn deacon, but we do not atten

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