Thomas Merton used the idea of le point vierge in a different though related context to his epiphany in the busy streets of Louisville when he details the process of dawn in the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. It was June 1960; the feast of Pentecost and Merton was sometimes allowed to stay in an abandoned tool shed he names St Ann’s which preceded the hermitage he later moved to a few years later. Merton writes:
‘The first chirps of the waking birds – le point vierge of the dawn, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in silence opens their eyes and they speak to Him, wondering if it is time to ‘be’? And He tells them. ‘Yes.’ Then they one by one wake and begin to sing. First the catbirds and cardinals and some others I do not recognise. Later, song sparrows, wrens, etc. Last of all doves, crows…
With my hair almost on end and the eyes of the soul wide open I am present, without knowing it at all, in this unspeakable Paradise…’
This is the first signs of the morning and the light piercing the darkness. Monica Weis writes about this as the true experience of contemplation. ‘The external, awesome awakening of morning echoes the equally awesome, internal awakening of his spirit.’ This is then about the mystery of transformation, the magic of each day’s creation.
‘Dawn, le point vierge, and its accompanying gift of mercy, signal not just another genesis moment at twenty-four hour intervals, but the continuous revelation of the Divine, in the unfolding of the universe…. The magnificence of sunrise, yet its dailyness – its inevitability, its cyclic rhythm – is stunning. The birds never tire of coming to be. They wake up and become birds – not a miracle of transforming themselves into another species, nor a mutation into some master flock – just ordinary birds waking to an ordinary day. Indeed the message in ordinariness is how truly extraordinary it is….It is ordinary moments like these when, if we, too are keenly aware, God reveals God’s Self.’
And, if we are absorbed in this appreciation we have transcended our normal self-preoccupations, we are then present, authentic and alive. For many of us, perhaps especially as we grow older, the power of nature seems to increasingly inform our spiritual lives.