Monday, September 26, 2011

Day of a Stranger, Part 1

Photo by Bryan Sherwood

Merton was asked by his friend Miguel Grinberg in Buenos Aires for some journal passages that would describe a "typical day" in his life that could be published in the periodical he edited, Eco Contemporaneo.  Merton responded by writing a "journal-like" essay, which he called "Day of a Stranger."  The following are excerpts from the first draft of that work, which was later revised.
"I live in the woods out of necessity.  I get our of bed in the middle of the night because it is imperative that I hear the silence of the night, alone, and, with my face on the floor, say psalms, alone, in the silence of the night.

"It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world.  I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves.  I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence.  It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross.  Nulla silva talem profert [No tree brings forth such].

"It is necessary for me to see the first point of light which begins to be dawn.  It is necessary to be present alone at the resurrection of Day, in the solemn silence at which the sun appears, for at this moment all the affairs of cities, of governments, of war departments, are seen to be the bickerings of mice.  I receive from the Eastern woods, the tall oaks, the one word DAY, which is never the same.  It is always in a totally new language. "

(to be continued)


  1. Beth, thanks for putting these words up. Being an early riser I enjoy reading the thoughts of others responses to the day before it becomes a day. I find that just sitting and not actually even meditating outdoors in the stillness before the dawn that the opportunity is there to become part of the stillness rather than just in the stillness. I believe it was a Rumi reading that says something about that those are the hours in which the secrets are given. I can't confirm it but I can't deny it either....something is going on for sure. Merton's words are lovely but also confirming and encouraging to make the pre dawn hours part of my day. Looking forward to the "to be continued". Robert

  2. to preserve the silence is to preserve the poetry, which I suspect, fear, both will have little relevance in the new millenium

    the forest thing is kind of wierd from a freudian point of view

    but yeah, like i said to the wife yesterday, it is good to take out time (egads what an expression) to sit in silence everyday

  3. More to come, Robert. Thanks for checking in. (sometimes I wonder if anyone is out there).

    Get used to the forest, dagored. It may not be in Freud's repertoire, but it figures significantly in Merton's. You're right, "take out time" is indeed a strange way of saying.

  4. I love your blog and the devotion to Merton. I am a presently discovering his many well known gems of his spiritual writing and reflections. I can not say I understand it all, but I have learned from him. Your posts are invaluable to so many folks and I hope you continue. Thank you for sharing.

  5. There is a wonderful little poem to be "mined" in Day of a Stranger.

    Sermon to the birds: "Esteemed friends, birds of noble lineage, I have no message to you except this: be what you are: be birds. Thus you will be your own sermon to yourselves!"
    Reply: "Even this is one sermon too many!"

  6. This has become my favorite "Merton" page. Love the poetry. Please don't go away.

  7. Ok Bob. I was beginning to think that this blog had run its course but maybe I'm not listening close enough.

  8. Has anybody been to the Redwoods Monastery where Merton spent some time in May of 1968? It made a deep impression on him. He took some beautiful photographs while he was there.

    1. I'd love to visit that monastery. In fact, in another lifetime, I think that I'd like to join the community! (I think that somewhere on this blog I might have a photo of the altar at the Redwoods Monastery - with the big glass windows and huge trees.)

    2. Here it is ...

    3. Thanks for posting the photo from the Redwoods. Interesting article, too. I've got to get out there!


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