The Divine Pudeur

Daniel Bourguet is a French Lutheran pastor who lives as a hermit in Provence. Like Thomas Merton, Bourguet’s a hermit who writes, preaches retreats, receives people.

As far as I know, his works have not been translated into English. They should be. There is a rare purity, simplicity, and depth in what he writes, which somehow remind me of Péguy at his best. Like Péguy, Bourguet is not afraid of “anthropormorphizing” God. We are, after all, created in God’s image and likeness and our sentiments towards Him mirror His sentiments toward us. (One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard began with a rhetorical question: “Why should we pray to God?” The preacher’s answer was perfectly simple: “God likes us to pray to Him.” And that was that. Why complicate things further?)

One of Bourguet’s recent books is titled Le Pudeur de Dieu. “Pudeur” is a word almost impossible to translate into English. It hints at discretion, timidity, delicateness. And there is delicateness, as well as depth, in Bourguet’s way of reading Scripture. What he finds in familiar episodes of the gospels is often disconcertingly beautiful.

The only place in the synoptic gospels where we read that Jesus “loved” anyone is in the story of the rich young man who went away sad. Jesus never imposes himself and seldom takes credit for anything. The evangelists use a passive form in many of the miracle cures. Not “I have restored your sight, forgiven your sins,” but “your sight is restored, your sins forgiven.” The silence of Jesus, his pudeur, is that of someone who leaves space for the one he loves to respond freely. Is it this that accounts for the silence of God which so often scandalizes us? (We all know from experience that the person who makes big professions of love is often insincere. When I was courting my wife and finally decided to roll the dice, the only thing I could come up with is “I love you more than words can say.” Thirty-seven years later that is still the best I can do.)

One of Bourguet’s most powerful meditations is on the Passion of the Father during the Passion of the Son. Here we are far from the image of an angry God accepting (and willing) the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten. The suffering of the Father has no words. He has sent His Son into the vineyard and they have killed Him! All of the synoptic gospels recount the mysterious rending of the veil of the Temple. Bourguet sees in this an indication of the great Passion of the Father, tearing His vestments in a mute sign of grief. He also observes that none of the Evangelists states that Jesus “died” but rather that he “gave up His spirit,” the Consoler, to comfort the grieving Father and reveal the communication of love between the Father and the Son.

This is pretty powerful stuff. We don’t think too much about the involvement of the whole Trinity in the Passion. Bourguet sees other signs of a silent presence of the Father during the Passion. The man who helps Jesus carry his cross, Simon the Cyrenian, is introduced to us not as someone’s son but rather as the father of Alexander and Rufus—two unknowns. Simon is thus cast in a paternal role—as though the Father came to help His son by means of this simple human father. At the end of the Passion appears Joseph of Arimathea who, like Simon, is an unknown. He speaks only to Pilate. As another Joseph had the role of father for the child Jesus, this Joseph also makes visible the presence of the invisible Father, placing the Son in a tomb—as God Himself, many years before, buried His friend Moses in a tomb the Israelites were never able to find.

Jerry Ryan joined the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1959. He lived and worked with them for more than two decades in Europe and South America. He and his family now live in Massachusetts.

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