Sunday, April 6, 2008


I have been reading Merton, seriously, since 1968. Before that I always knew about Merton. I grew up just a few miles from Gethsemane and my family often attended services with the monks. My father brought home Merton’s books as they were published.

My spiritual reading has been broad, but Merton is the writer that I have stayed with consistently, reading many of the same books over and over again, for years. I have begun to realize that Merton is my primary spiritual director – and the voice that I most trust.

Sometimes others who write about Merton help me to better understand Merton. I have especially appreciated the writings of James Finley, Roger Lipskey and Jim Forrest.

But Kathleen Deignan’s writing on Merton is special. In her “Book of Hours”, she has been able to lift from Merton’s writing (and mostly his poetry) not just his thought, but the secret of his soul: Praise.

The following are excerpts from her introduction to the “Book of Hours”:

The Territory of Praise: “Le Point Vierge” of Paradise

“This is the burning promised land, the house of God, the gate of heaven.” (Entering the Silence, p. 473)

In the several decades of his monastic life, Thomas Merton became a dervish of praise spinning around a still point of presence manifesting on the surface and in the depths of everything, especially the human heart. He labored to name this mysterious center of being, “a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and 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 of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.” (Conjectures of a Guilty
Bystander, p. 158). He called it “le point vierge” – the “virgin point” of the spirit where one meets God, and which is the glory of God in us. It is like a “pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven”… Merton had no program to suggest for this seeing; it was in his experience the wide open secret to which so few attend: “paradise is all around us and we do not understand.” (CGB, p. 132). But the return to paradise, and the delineation of access routes for its discovery, was the passion of his life … (Book of Hours, pp. 30-31)

The Time of Praise: “Le Temps Vierge” of Eternity

“You have given me roots in Eternity” (Entering the Silence, p. 473)

If the territory of paradise is here, it’s time is now – each and every seminal moment that plants seeds of spiritual vitality in the human soul. But few of us are receptive to these pregnant germs of grace because we do not sense time as the field of encounter with divine presence. Rather we live in a time of no room, “obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, acceleration. (Raids on the Unspeakable, p. 70). There is no room for the mysterious spaciousness of being, no time for presence; no room for nature, no time for quiet, for thought, for presence. We are “worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race, and with ourselves, auseated.” (Thomas Merton Reader, pp. 363-364) …

We fear the thief of time that steals from the treasure we did not take the time to discover hidden in the cracks between CHRONOS – “a linear flight into nothingness” (Seasons of Celebration, p. 32) – and KAIROS the time of possibility and abundance that opens as we return to the immediacy of what is real. “Be the son of this instant”, Merton advises because the present is our right place, where the mind is at home. (BOOK OF HOURS Introduction, pp. 32-33)

Probably much to long for a blog entry, but I needed all of it this morning.

[Note: another place in this blog where I talk about Kathleen Deignan's book, "Book of Hours"]


  1. Wonderful, thank you. It illuminates thoughts I have written about lately. Merton's use of the term "point vierge" is interesting. I have seen references to "temps vierge" elsewhere. It seems to me a bit like the still point of T.S.Eliot, or the Ground of Being that Eckhart wrote about.

  2. Me too, Barbara. These writings seem to be speaking to *where I am* now.

    And yes, like Eliot's still point. I'm not familiar enough with Eckhart's writings - I know him mostly 2nd hand through Dag Hammerskjold.

  3. I had no idea there was a connection between Dag Hammarskjold and Meister Eckhart. You learn somethin' every day.

  4. When I was in my early 20's I took a book out of the Scappoose, Oregon library: "Markings" by Dag Hammerskjold. I never returned it, but opted to pay the fine for a "lost book".

    The book is Hammerskjold's notes through the years reflecting on his inner, spiritual life. He is grounded in Eckhart and refers to him often.

    The book was/is significant for me, I think, because it was the first time I had ever seen this innerlife articulated the Hammerskjold did - and I recognized it!

  5. FYI: "Markings" is available as a mass-market paperback on Amazon for $6.99.

  6. THanks for that information, Larry. I'm glad to know that it is still in print. I actually still have my copy from the Scappoose library, but it is getting rather tattered.

  7. I had a copy of Markings at one point in my life. I am old enough to remember Dag Hammarskjold as Secretary General of the UN. Maybe I should replace that copy.

  8. I somewhat remeber that too, Barbara - at least I remember the news when he died.

    And before I ran into "Markings", I remember being impressed with the Meditation Room at the United Nations, which I think tht he had put in. At the time I was impressed that a place that includes many countries, many religions, could have a common place of prayer that didn't offend anyone. It was the first time I had seen such a thing. Of course now there are many such places in hospitals, etc.


From Dorothy Day’s editorial in the Catholic Worker on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.