Perhaps the word sounds rather different in French (ermite), but it is hard to know how else to translate it, though it does tend 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. Anyway, 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.