The Night Spirit And The Dawn Air

Credits: Excerpt edited from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,
By Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk & Mystic
Contributed by: Henry Clarke

How the valley awakes. At two-fifteen there are no sounds except in the monastery… outside, nothing, except perhaps a bullfrog saying “Om” in the creek or in the guesthouse pond. Some nights he is in Samadhi; there is not even “Om”. The mysterious and uninterrupted whooping of the whippoorwill begins about three… two whooping together, perhaps a mile away in the woods to the east.

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 Creator in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak in return, 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 time for them to “be.” The Creator 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. Humanity’s wisdom does not succeed, for we all fallen into self-mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone. We face our mornings as men and women of undaunted purpose. We know the time and we dictate terms. We are in a position to dictate terms, we suppose: we have a clock that proves we are right from the very start. We know what time it is. We are in touch with the hidden inner laws. We will say in advance what kind of day it has to be. Then if necessary we will take steps to make it meet our requirements.

For the birds there is not a time that they tell, but the “point vierge”, the virgin point between darkness and light, between nonbeing and being. You can tell yourself the time by their waking, if you are experienced. But that is your folly, not theirs. Worse folly still if you think they are telling you something you might consider useful – that it is, for example four o’clock.

So they wake: first the catbirds and cardinals and some that I do not know. Later the song sparrows and wrens. Last of all the doves and crows. The waking of crows is most like the waking of people: querulous, noisy, raw.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword (with which the angel guarded Eden from re-entry to Adam and Eve) is taken away, but we do not know it:

We are off “one to his farm and another to her merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static.

“Wisdom,” cries the invitation of the dawn deacon: Shall we attend?