I live in an old seminary in Grand Coteau, a rural village of Louisiana. My third-floor bedroom window is about level with the tops of the trees which surround the building. Poking out of the sea of treetops, the steeple of the wood-frame country church is clearly visible. All of it—the church, the trees, and the seminary building—are more than a hundred years old. I’m the only thing that is young in this scene.
Most mornings, I wake up before sunrise and stumble downstairs for a large cup of coffee. When I return with it, I turn off my air-conditioning and crack open the window so that I can feel the warm, humid breeze and listen to the winding-down of the nighttime insects (What are they? Crickets? Grasshoppers? Cicadas?) and the winding-up of the birdsong of the day.
And I begin to pray. Sometimes my brain gets going and I think holy thoughts or imagine something sacred. But other times I just sit in the stupor of not-yet-awake-ness and let my five senses do the work of communicating with the One who created it all.
It is only this morning that I realized that every one of my senses is engaged in this pre-dawn ceremony. My smell and taste relish the strong, rich Louisiana coffee. My air-conditioned skin suddenly is awakened by warmth and humidity. My ears enjoy the operatic drama of cicadas and mockingbirds. And my eyes feast on the emerging dawn displaying before me an old unmoving steeple-cross serenely presiding over mighty oaks.
I did not rationally construct a ritual involving all five senses. The chair facing outward, the open window, the strong cup of coffee—they converged slowly—seemingly accidentally—over time. And this makes me wonder: did each one of my five senses gently poke and prod my unconscious self until that sense, too, could absorb God first thing in the morning? Or, perhaps the senses conspired together to make sure that every hungry human receptacle in me was taking in God in one accord? Either way, it makes me think of Augustine’s insight about restless hearts. Perhaps it is not only our hearts that are restless for God. Perhaps our nose and ears and eyes and skin and tongue are ravenously craving God as they awake to a new day.
I too heard and felt God talking and teaching me as I walked the grounds during morning prayer 5:30 – 6:30 each morning there at St Charles from July 59 – 63. But I had to have special permission be leave my cubicle to come to know God on the grounds walking among the oaks, Camellia ,and azaleas.
Your reflection drives me to Merton who, at the beginning of Section three of Confessions of a Guilty Bystander writes:
“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.”
The “point vierge” or virgin moment is for me the desired moment of graced Indifference, the moment whose awareness I realize only as it passes, when the darkness goes quiet, Consolation chirps, and I query, “Is this the time to “be”?
Oh how I love this post, Fr Mark. I’m saving it on my phone. Thank you for writing it.
I love the idea that my “senses conspire together to make sure that every hungry human receptacle in me was taking in God in one accord.”
It reminds me that God seeks every part of me and is present–if only I pay attention. This reminds me of Eucharist.
Wow! I love this scenario.
God so close…greeting our early morning sleepy selves…of course!
Isn’t that what our Dad would do?
I have often seen and spoken to God through His animals and the visual beauty of nature. Thank you for showing me how to expand what I already have to include all my senses.