Advent – Week 3 – “le point vierge” – God Experiences

FullSizeRender“A French phrase caught my attention in the writings of Thomas Merton. Even poorly pronounced, le point vierge sounds better in French than its English translation ‘the virgin point.’ Merton defined le point vierge as the ‘point at which I can meet God in a real and experimental contact.’ He said, ‘This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us.’” (Christine Bochen, Thomas Merton: The Essential Writings, pp. 60-61)
Jim Harnish points to the story of Mary this week as we explore the characters of the Advent story.  Mary is usually described as the Virgin mother of Jesus.  This distinction often carries with it a strange scientific inner debate about what exactly this means.  Virgin as a term carries with it a strange idea of purity, a sense of something un-touched, innocent, or somehow more pure than that which is the opposite.  On a snowy morning the “virgin snow” might be the snow that is untouched by creature or vehicle, somehow better because it has not been reached yet by something which disturbs it.
Yet, the le point vierge that Harnish uses as described by Thomas Merton somehow changes that understanding.  The virgin point somehow becomes this interaction with God that is experimental and new.  New and experimental contact is often messy and not some perfect interaction.  Mary’s story is anything, but perfect in the sense of how a king should come into the world.  An unwed young woman finds herself pregnant and not in a place of wealth, and with a significant other who has to decide whether he still wants to be with her.  Yet, the story of Mary focuses on this virgin point by showing Mary’s willingness to be open to God’s love entering the world through her.  The story of God enters the world in the all the wrong ways, and yet the gospel writer uses the word for purity to describe it.  I think the gospel writer uses the word not prove Mary’s sexual purity, but her willingness to be part of God’s working in the world.
This past week I was in Denver.  I love riding public transit when I am in Denver, it makes for great people watching.  A young man strolled up to me at one of the stops, in a way that made me think he was trying to sell me something.  He pointed to my clergy collar and asked me if I was a priest.  I clumsily shared that I was a pastor not a priest(as if it mattered to him).  He asked me, “Does drinking make me a bad person?”  I had to stop for a minute.  I immediately thought in my head, NO!  However, he asked me as a clergy person, so he must be looking for guidance.  I responded by asking, “Is it causing a problem for you?”  He shared with me that it was not and then shared the gentleman shared he was looking for something deeper in his life.  I shared with him some resources for faith community connectional and he went to the other side of the train platform to go on his way.
Le point vierge can be as simple as this interaction I had was.  I almost got caught up in who I was, what my title was, but instead I felt the tugging to listen.Being willing to share love with others is what it means to touch God in an experimental way.  By being open to how God might use us, we get out of the way enough for God’s love to be present through us.
Pray this week for the young man I met and seek ways to find yourself at le point vierge.  
When is a time you found yourself at  le point vierge?  Share your story.