Friday, May 22, 2009

The Night Spirit and the Dawn Air

I've always been a night person, but about 7 or 8 years ago, I began staying up through the night into the dawn. That first year, during the spring and early summer, it was due to a fresh new friendship, a time when conversations lasted well into the night, the end of which was usually signaled by the first chirping of birds and light breaking through the long night. time to go home, call it a night, resign the life-affirming conversation to the status of "to be continued..." Since that time, those early morning hours have held a special place and meaning in my life, and the sounds of the first birds of spring at the crack of dawn is one of my favourite sounds to listen to. It signals the end of winter and the end of the darkness. Before going to bed, I will often stop by an open window and just listen...and watch the dawn come up. it is a moment of utter peace and calm, a silent moment before the noise of the day and the world break through in demand of one's mind and soul. I often pray at some point during this moment. more often I simply sit still and meditate, or more precicely, allow a spirit of meditation to wash over me and cleanse me for the day ahead.

I've never explained the title of this blog before now, and so I thought I would now, as a sort of compromise between original content and the quoting of others I've been doing these last few months. a bridge. I have writings stirring in my head, moments to catch up on here. for now, I'll simply shed a little light on the pretentious title I've chosen for these pages, for those who don't already know.

The title comes from one of my favourite books by Thomas Merton. It is the title of one of the chapters in "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander". When I read the title, I felt it fit me perfectly, for I am certainly a "night spirit" who is well acquainted with the dawn air, experienced enough to foolishly tell the time by its arrival, "foolish" enough to still be awed by it these many years later. this is an excerpt of the first part of that chapter, along with a quote by Aquinas which opens that section, a quote I find particularly important to remember and live by. I am yet still in darkness, I do not yet live nor love as I ought to, as I want to. But I am trying to open my eyes and see the light breaking through, on my better days, hoping and maybe even expecting the dawn to overcome the darkness. Asking God if I can "be" yet, if it is time...

"We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it." -St. Thomas Aquinas

How the valley awakes. At two-fifteen there are no sounds except in the monastery: the bells ring, the office begins. 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, these mornings. He is not always near. Sometimes there are two whooping together, perhaps a mile away in the woods in 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 Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to Him, 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.” He 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. Man’s wisdom does not succeed, for we are fallen into self-mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone. We face our mornings as men 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 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 men: querulous, noisy, raw.

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it: we are off “one to his farm and another to his merchandise.” Lights on. Clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling radios with static. “Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.
-Thomas Merton

1 comment:

Steve H. said...


I love the dawn myself. I tend to get up early rather than stay up through the night though. I was up at 3:30 AM this morning which, granted, is even early for me :)