Sunday, November 02, 2003

An awakening question

In an instance of synchronicity tying together a number of strands of thought and experience, I found this book this afternoon: Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story. A Complete Compendium. Recently I've been thinking and learning more about Thomas Merton and his writings, as well as about mysticism and contemplation in general. A few years ago I also took a course in Sufism.

Chapter 3, "Merton, Massignon, and the Challenge of Islam," by Sidney H. Griffith, provides rich material to ponder. I had become acquainted with Louis Massignon's work on al-Hallâj when writing a paper for the Sufism course. The chapter focuses on the life of Massignon and on his influence on Merton.

Merton adopts a phrase of Massignon's derived from Massignon's study of al-Hallâj, le point vierge, "the innermost secret heart (as-sirr)—the deep subconscious of a person." (p. 65) Merton describes it this way:
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 . . . the person that each one is in God's eyes. (quoted on p. 67—my ordering of the sentences; from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander pp. 156-58)
All that to come to the passage I most wanted to write here, again quoted from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 131:
The first chirps of the waking day 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 begin to speak to [God], 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." [God] answers "yes." Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. (quoted on p. 68)

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