A brief biography
Daniel Bourguet was born in 1946. As a young man he studied theology in Switzerland and Germany before spending a supplementary year in Jerusalem, which is where he first came across monks. At that time France still had conscription, and Daniel’s time conscripted was served in Madagascar, where he was a coopérant, an alternative to the military for specialists in some field, in his case, teaching. The following needs checking, but there is a suggestion in one of his books that Daniel had an interest in one great French passion, rugby.
On his return to France in 1972, he became a pastor in the French Reformed Church in the South-West of the country. Some hints as to the pastoral ministry can be found in the letters in God at the heart of our lives; we see suggestions of a young pastor learning the ropes mainly from older parishioners. In one charming account a fine old man tells the visiting Daniel about the various pastors he had seen come and go:
“I have had the opportunity to see all sorts of pastors and so all sorts of visit: those in which the pastor had no idea how to finish and take his leave, those in which he felt it his place to teach me my business in the fields, those in which I was told all about the pastor’s activities within the parish as well as those apart from it but without him taking any time to inform himself about my affairs, others in which the pastor emptied out his concerns or rather his bile (though I was happy to see him all the same), those whose eyes strayed rather too frequently to the clock without my really knowing if he was listening to me . . . The latest takes everything back to issues of ecology! Not every visit has been like this, thank God, but often, I have to say . . .”
In the course of time, Daniel began to teach Old Testament at the protestant Institute of Theology in Montpellier. Among others he taught Bob Ekblad, whose books led the present writer to Daniel, and who has written the introduction that appears in each of the books. Here is Bob on Daniel as a teacher, in an excerpt from that introduction:
Daniel Bourguet taught us Hebrew and Old Testament in ways that made the language and text come alive. He invited students into his passion and curiosity as we pondered both familiar and difficult passages of Scripture. I remember continually being surprised at how seriously Daniel took every textual critical variant, even seemingly irrelevant ones. He masterfully invited and guided us to both scrutinize and contemplate each variant in its original language until we under-stood the angle from which ancient interpreters had viewed the text. Daniel modeled an honoring of distinct perspectives as we studied the history of interpretation of each passage. He sought to hold diverse perspectives together whenever possible, yet only embraced what the text actually permitted, exemplifying fine-tuned discernment that inspired us.
Daniel’s thorough approach meant he would only take us through a chapter or two per semester. This meant we took entire courses on Genesis 1-2:4, on Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:1-4, and on Jeremiah 31, Exodus 1-2, Psalms 1-2 and others. In each of his courses he included relevant rabbinic exegesis, New Testament use of the Old Testament, and the church fathers’ interpretations. Daniel imparted his confidence that God speaks good news now as he accompanied us in our reading, making our hearts burn like those of the disciples on the road to Emmaus—and inspiring us to want to do this with others.
While still pastoring Daniel wrote his doctoral thesis on metaphors in Jeremiah. In 1987 he left the pastorship to teach, and in 1991 he became the “prior” of La Fraternité Spirtuelle des Veilleurs. This is a movement of laypeople and pastors who are committed to a rhythm of prayer and Bible reading in a monastic style, but at home; its origins lie back in 1923 when it was founded by Wilfred Monod, and has been an influential element in French church life. As prior (or leader) Daniel conducted retreats, visited and wrote circulars, some of which can be read in the above-mentioned God at the heart of our lives.
The letters in this book are of great interest; some of them are simply charming as well as insightful, but the great interest lies in what we can read of Daniel’s unusual move to a full monastic life. We read about his desire to form a protestant monastic community; this led him initially to join a Cistercian monastery near Lyon, but when the envisioned community did not eventuate, he decided he should proceed with the contemplative life alone and found refuge in what one article describes as the mountains and forest of the Cevennes where “his camisard forbears hid from the dragoons of Louis XIV.”
He moved there in 1996 and continues a daily pattern of life as described here, with the steady output of books discussed on this site. He ceased to be prior of the Watchmen in 2012, but continues in a pastoral role.