What is this about being a ‘hermit’? Daniel mentions in one of his books a visit to a well known ‘saint’ in Romania, and perhaps the following picture is a remembrance of that:
At all events, there is a certain attraction to a more retired life, and it has been a well trodden path by men and women devotedly following Jesus – and serving their communities. Perhaps there is a problem with the word ‘hermit’, which may sound rather different in French (ermite), but it is hard to know how else to translate it, tending though it does to conjure up rather the wrong image. The point is made in the pieces that follow that an ermite is not a recluse; in fact Daniel is a busy man, rather busier than he perhaps desires. One would suggest judging an activity by its fruit, which in Daniel’s case particularly includes his wonderful contemplative books.
As a taste of a ‘hermit’s’ life, we can’t do much better than quote, in translation, from a number of accounts of visits to Daniel; a few of these can be found through google.fr. The first, nicely written, piece is from www.lafree.ch; the author is Gabrielle Desarzens.
An incursion into the world of Daniel Bourguet, hermit
You hear it said that places where people pray become places of beauty — or is it perhaps that the beauty of some places calls us to prayer? We’re going to find out! The path which leads to the cabin of hermit Daniel Bourguet in this gateway to the Cevennes is such a place; walking here is in itself an invitation to introspection. This October morning the hermit shows the way. He stops at the sheepfold to leave some mulberry leaves for the sheep; then he leads on to the edge of the forest where we see, a little further on, his log cabin, the other side of a patch of grass bordered by large chestnuts. He has lived here for 17 years now, in this one room hut, with its outlook into the surrounding forest.
A beneficent solitude
The generous beard, a smile in the eyes, he doesn’t particularly care to prepare for an interview and above all does not seek publicity since there are already plenty of people who seek him out. “It becomes more and more difficult; I live as far as possible from people but they come here. I often long for the solitude I need, which does me so much good.” For all this, Daniel Bourguet does not welcome his neighbour with any less compassion “. . . They don’t come here for no reason.” And because a hermit is not a recluse. “A recluse keeps his door permanently shut, unlike a hermit who could do with losing the key.” He laughs. “You have to understand that a hermit welcomes people as though each time he was welcoming Christ in the person who comes. Thus, the welcome is warm and attentive.”
In touch with the world
No electricity in his cabin. No television, no radio, no newspaper. The news of the world does make its way in through the words of those who come to see him. “I don’t know who won the World Cup, but I do know that children are mistreated, women violated, there are couples who break up, people who plan on suicide. I am up to date with all that because people tell me themselves; I get it straight!” Some come with deep wounds. Daniel listens; then he entrusts what he has heard to God. “Welcoming also means opening up to someone who opens up to me. There is therefore a profound dialogue. I realize that in our media filled world, so full of information, paradoxically few people are open to listening. That’s where the ermite comes in. To listen. And then to bear the world up in prayer. One day, deep in the Carpathians, I had the opportunity to meet a Romanian hermit, who told me this: ‘Remember that you are not a hermit on behalf of the protestants but of the whole world!'”
A life discipline
First a pastor in the French Reformed church some forty years ago, Daniel begins and finishes his days with prayer. He follows a regular and repetitive rhythm of life, marked by the three offices he celebrates at the Fraternité des Abeillères, the Cevennes retreat centre of the Veilleurs; by reading; and by his tapestry work, murals, the biblical motifs for which were designed by the pastor and painter Henri Lindegaard, whom he knows.
Spiritual deserts? Yes, these have to be traversed, and in one respect there is beauty there, he muses. “It’s painful, but you can’t just stop, because just as if you were in a physical desert, you can die! You have to keep going and understand that the deserts are there to measure the extent of your trust in God. Do you find yourself to be weak? God does not abandon us. It is good for us to know our weakness; it strengthens our bonds with God.”
The sheep rejoin us, coming to eat the chestnuts at our feet. The spot is bathed in sunlight this morning and breathes quietness. At the end of any discussion, the hermit suggests that his visitors stay and enjoy the natural terrace before they go back down to their numerous concerns . . .
The following translates an article by Celine Hoyeau at www.la-croix.com
A protestant hermit near St Jean du Gard, his light shines well beyond the Cevennes
It’s not an isba beside Lake Baikal but a log cabin, no electricity, tucked away in the heart of the Cevennes forest. Here Daniel Bourguet, 64, with the beard of a prophet and the eyes of an eagle, has established his hermitage, far from the noise of the world.
He retired to this natural cloister some 15 years ago to fulfil his double vocation, monk and pastor. This is not a common choice in the protestant world, and not one he explains here . . . or not in so many words. Daniel Bourguet declines interviews, for the sake of privacy and so as not to expend his energies.
But the man of silence does speak, in a different way; and his words sound out well beyond this woodland clearing. He preaches retreats, publishes abundantly – twenty books in ten years – and counsels dozens of people by mail. His books, feeding on the tradition of the desert Fathers, have been a straightforward success among protestants who are looking for a more contemplative and less intellectual spiritual life.
Previously he was a teacher in the faculty of theology in Montpellier and a pastor in les Landes; he also now preaches in the neighbouring parish of St Jean du Gard, and during Advent his voice resonates across the air waves with RCF in a series of meditations on the tenderness of God.
Silence as a condition for listening.
In fact, the self-imposed silence is not an end in itself but the condition for listening. “One of the curses of our times (he writes in Bible Meditation), is how impoverished our listening has become, because there is no knowledge of how to be silent . . . To hear the word of God, the necessary silence is an internal silence, the silence of the heart, when the thoughts that jostle each other in a brouhaha which is more disturbing than the neighbour’s television or the scooters in the street are silent.”
His editor, Henri Fischer, from Éditions Olivétan, confirms this: “It is in the silence that the word is born. Daniel Bourguet’s preaching is the fruit of silent rumination on the Word of God. And it becomes richer in contact with the words of others.”
The day begins at 4, in the silence of the night. It follows a rhythm of seven offices, Bible study, meditation, writing. Ora et labora: he gains his living doing tapestries in wool following the designs of the painter Henri Lindegaard. A great part of his time is also consecrated to receiving visitors.
The paradox of the hermit is that in the retirement of his Cevennes solitude, he doesn’t spend two days without a visitor. They come from all over France to confide in this protestant starets who knows so well the human soul.
Silence at times anguishing
“Often (he writes), in prayer I run unhappily into the silence of God. This silence is at times so heavy that I am seized by anguish; I know nothing of tenderness in this silence and I am pained by its harshness. This is not the sweetness but the rawness of silence; no longer the joyous light but the intense obscurity of God’s silence.”
For twenty years Daniel Bourguet was the prior of the Fraternité des Veilleurs, a protestant equivalent to the third order of Franciscans founded in 1923 by Wilfred and his son Théodore Monod.
Everyday, this unseen monastery gathers together 300 Christians across France who seek to live their daily life in this same silence.
At the moment, I am unable to find my source for the following piece, which again is translated from the French.
An encounter with Daniel Bourguet
Living alone, at the end of the track, the end of the world, but also at the centre of a network of prayer, of engagement with the world and deliverance of others . . . A pastor and a protestant monk, a craftsman, musician and theologian. How does one become a hermit in the Cevennes?
You wouldn’t want to risk finding him by chance! First of all you arrive at St Jean du Gard, a village in the Cevennes. Take a left in front of the railway station, and follow the scenic route that winds for several kilometers into the mountains. Leave your car in the area signposted “Parking des Abeillères” and continue on foot a short way up a sheeptrack to the right of the road until you reach a clearing at the foot of some rocks, and just there, there is a log cabin. He welcomes you with warmth and simplicity.
He has the eyes of a child, the beard of a prophet, and the demeanour of a prophet, and that is just what he is: a protestant monk unlike anyone else. Silence, prayer, music, manual labour, study and writing fill this solitary life, which at the same time is devoted to receiving visitors.
Hundreds read him, write to him, seek his help. He himself seems to marvel at the pathway that has led him here. Does he indeed live as a hermit here in this little house in the woods? “Yes,” he says, “if being a hermit means living away from others.” But he is a hermit whose door is open, and he is rarely alone for two days running.
He has lived here for 8 years. The journey began with theological studies in Montpellier, Switzerland, Germany and in Jerusalem. He was a cooperant in Madagascar. After teaching in the Faculty of theology in Montpellier, he became pastor of a parish in the South-West. It was there the call to a monastic life became evident. In reply to our question, “Isn’t it strange for a protestant to be a monk?” he replies simply, “I felt this call deep in my being from the moment in Israel that I came across the lives of the desert monks. A life devoted to study, to prayer and to manual work. What drew me was the underscoring of the connection with God, the time that can be given to Him, this absolute commitment to God which isn’t there in any other ministry. For me it is contact with God that comes first. It is the love of God which enables us to love our sisters and brothers. The life of a monk is in its essence turned towards Christ. It seeks to be a sign and a witness to others. Christ himself, the Gospels tell us, prayed in desert places and on the mountains, an essential to his relationship with his Father. He went missing and the whole world sought after him . . .” Nevertheless, Daniel Bourguet’s path was not straightforward: his desire to live in community was not realized when he left his parish, and there was a 7 year wilderness as he established his life of solitude at Les Abeillères. His solitude follows a rhythm of 7 daily offices, two hours consecrated to study, the writing of books and manual work. The theologian makes his living with five hours each day working on tapestries in wool, following drawings by pastor Henri Lindegaard. “This work,” he says, “is a great help to prayer; but receiving guests is the priority. If someone comes, you stop praying. For him, solitude is important, but so too is fellowship; he also participates in the parish of the Reformed Church in St Jean du Gard, directing the musical ensemble, as stand-in organist, in study meetings, sharing with visiting groups, services . . .
Visitors are numerous, as are those who write. Many have a need to confide in someone, to lay down burdens often of very long standing. Many are very much alone and need to be able to speak openly, to be heard and understood. This is a ministry in itself and people come from all over France to open up to the hermit of the Cevennes. Many tell him, “This is the first time I’ve been able to talk properly.” One day a bikie type came up the mountain path; he laid his helmet on the table and said, “I’ve come to talk about God.”
How does he bear up when so many griefs are placed before him? In his book God at the heart of our lives he replies as follows: “With the visitors . . . it’s not me that they’re coming to see. My business is just to open the door and let them come in. I let them address themselves directly to Christ . . . They know that my listening is also intended to help and that their words will fill my prayers. I just open the door; that’s all! But somebody has to do this, and I am very happy to . . .”
(This article concludes by describing Daniel’s former role as prior to the Fraternité des Veilleurs and his connection with the sisters of the Pomeyrol community, which has provided a meeting place for retreats where “a welcome is assured to those who wish to spend a few days of silence and prayer among the mountains, following the rhythm of the daily offices.”)
Here is another more recent article, also by Gabrielle Desarzens
In Jesus’ final discourse with his disciples, something new springs into life; so says Cevennes hermit, Daniel Bourguet, 71. We had a meeting in the south of France with this solitary who loves the world.
He has a beard of generous proportions, a gentle but arresting look in his eye. Daniel Bourguet, protestant pastor and for twenty plus years a hermit in the Cevennes, has recently published a new work, its title, The final discourse before the cross. He reads through the passage in John’s Gospel (John 13:31 to 16:33) each year on the eve of Good Friday in the chapel belonging to the guest house at Abeillères, below his cabin. For him, something new becomes apparent in this farewell address [note – Daniel says it is not a farewell address!], “a life which is beginning,” he writes. As we walk up to his lodge, his gaze lost in the trees and sunlit hills, he explains in his gentle voice: “We await some sort of overview from Jesus, a look at the past before he is parted from his disciples. But that is not what happens. At that precise time he was present physically, but now he is present in our heart; what was beginning is this new life, the life of the Church, this life with the hidden Christ, present in us.”
In his tiny cabin, 2m by 5m, there is a table, a bed and two chairs. He receives visitors who come to recover their zest for life; and to reconnect with themselves. “We live in a world in which we lose our personality,” considers Daniel Bourguet, not without adding that he sorrows to see so many people caught up in the affairs of daily life. Nevertheless he is persuaded that the bond with God enables self-discovery. “In their own eyes they no longer know who they are, and the opinion of others teaches them even less, but in God’s eyes they are someone. If I can help them understand this, then something relaxes. Something opens.”
The silences of God
On the table, a candle. “At night, when there is no candle, you can’t even see the walls; suddenly you have no idea how large the room is; it could be any size! And then there is this silent flame, which I would so like to resemble, always reaching upwards. What is so beautiful is that when it gives its light to another candle, it doesn’t lose its own. This is somewhat in the image of God: when God gives, he loses nothing of what he is. There are things that make me marvel.” Daniel Bourguet also evokes the silence of God, which can be the silence of intimacy. “There are also moments when God is silent because he is wounded,” he indicates, “but it is never a silence of disinterest.” Then there is the silence of listening: “God is waiting to hear something. It is as if he was asking us, ‘But when are going to speak to me?’”
The solitary man prays for the world. “It should be said that as a result of prayer for humanity, I love it. While I have set a distance between it and myself, prayer opens the heart. And to bear humanity before God with love — I am happy to do that! Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, all our strength, with all our mind. And we have the impression that this is too much — but that’s not the end of it; there’s also the question of loving your neighbour. As a result of opening up to God, you begin to love others: this just develops of itself. The love of God seeps into us. And here perhaps is the great mystery of the resurrection: this life that Jesus lived with others, he lives from now on in us.”
Three elements of an ordinary day
The following is an excerpt from God at the heart of our lives; it gives a clear statement of Daniel’s view of what it means to be a ‘hermit’ as well as an account, albeit 20 years old, of his daily life:
So, what is an ordinary day at Les Abeillères (recognizing that this picture of ordinary is in itself rather unusual)? Such a day includes three essential elements: prayer, reading (lectio) or Bible meditation, and manual work.
1. Prayer occupies the place of choice because of the number of daily offices and the continual prayer which informs and fills the rest of the day. The most out of the ordinary of these times is perhaps the night time office. At times a battle, certainly, but starting the day on one’s knees in deep silence, breathing out as the day’s first word, “Lord,” really is extraordinary, a sort of miracle! It is a word which speaks of the Lord’s presence and is indeed the acknowledgment of his presence, and a word often so charged with love.
So, my day begins with a phrase which is always the same, a phrase from a psalm: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth will show forth your praise.” In this opening prayer I join with monks everywhere as well as with all who pray this psalm; it is a wonderful liturgical psalm which both enfolds my personal prayer and opens it up to the communion of saints. Our personal prayer peters out so rapidly, tired and impoverished; it is wonderful to feel animated by the communion of saints and to feel this communion, even alone in the middle of the night.
The prayer in this psalm was also Christ’s as he prayed the psalms, good Jew that he was; so my prayer is joined to his in the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. Saying this, I see that Christ and the Holy Spirit are both present too, turning toward the Father; what an extraordinary reality, that the Trinity is right there, while I am just a step or two from my bed!
The one simple word, “Lord,” is addressed equally to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; it is a word instinct with adoration, with supplication and with an intimacy which I hope is growing.
This prayer is one I make while the whole world is asleep; and I am happy to bear up in this way those who rest.
“Lord, open my lips,” is a supplication that tends entirely towards praise: “and my mouth shall publish your praise.” It is also intercession for all who have no knowledge of how to pray like this. It speaks in their place; it is prayer for them; it puts me in a position of solidarity with those whose lips have not yet been opened in prayer and who therefore thirst for such words: “Lord, open my lips.”
Without love, prayer is nothing: it is love for God and for all humanity. Love purifies prayer, which without it becomes pharisaical and hypocritical, and prayer purifies love. There is a to and fro between prayer and love; prayer impels us to love, and love impels us to pray.
Without humility, prayer is nothing. God is so humble that he hears me in my bedroom, and so my prayer ought to resemble the humility of God. The humble prayer par excellence is the “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have pity on me, a sinner”; as the days go by this prayer is slowly shaping me.
2. Reading. I am more and more aware that just one word from the Bible is an ocean of life. Each word is alive. In his Word, God gives himself totally, to the point of becoming one flesh with us. He enters our lives to transform them. Meditation opens the heart to this life of God.
Every word in the Bible is also an ocean of love. If some word seems to say something contrary to love, I stop and search out what it really means until it is rooted in this love; if this doesn’t happen, then I have misunderstood. Nothing but words of love could come from the God of love; God’s very anger speaks of his wounded love.
In each biblical word I also discern the love of the person who wrote it. Each verse, each word is steeped in the love of the one who wrote. What love was needed to pen this: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth . . .”! The person who wrote this was not there, but he was gripped by a great love that enabled him to understand the love necessary for God to create the whole universe. In this encounter with the love of God and the love of the biblical author, love is awakened in me and fills my reading to such an extent that it is imprinted on the entire day.
I read more and more slowly in order not to pass over too quickly the depth of the words, their weight of love, their overflow of life and light.
3. Manual work. This too is extraordinary to the degree in which prayer and meditation meet together in it and pervade it. If, as I work, I slacken in my prayer or meditation, I open my Bible again or a spiritual book and then take my work up again in a renewed spirit of prayer. My manual work lends itself to this.
All the wall hangings I make are illustrations of biblical scenes and they are all the fulfillment of orders. My work is therefore a place of meeting between my meditation and prayer on behalf of whoever I am working for. Supplication, intercession and adoration all meet here; they become flesh in the silence and beauty.
So there we have a resumé of my standard day. Welcoming visitors cannot be counted as “standard”, but it does integrate harmoniously with the rest. A passing guest does not disturb; prayer and meditation continue beyond their visit, just as they preceded it while I awaited their arrival.
With regard to my visitors, I often come across misunderstandings as to how things stand. The life of a recluse whose door is shut should not be confused with that of a hermit, whose door is always open and who considers a guest to have been sent by God. If that is the life of a hermit, then that is indeed the life I am endeavoring to lead.