|Father James feeding a chickadee|
How many of us take the time to let birds know us, to stand quietly, wait patiently, allow trust to come? In a world where life moves at a frantic pace, who slows their existence to become intimate with the birds around us? I have come to treasure summer mornings on the deck eating breakfast with birds chirping and singing in the trees of my backyard. Yet I have but a passing acquaintance with them compared to the relationship developed by Father James.
For 30 years of his life he lived in a small house in the bush of the abbey. He spent those 10,000 days and nights connecting with God and with people. While he retreated from the community he remained a vital part of the monastery. He taught first year university English, he made weekly visits to the nursing home in Humboldt, he celebrated the Eucharist with his fellow Benedictine monks. Most of all he welcomed friends to Marantha (Come Lord Jesus), his home in the bush. He was a solitary rather than a hermit.
In this slender volume 21 of his friends – writers, poets, singers, teachers, administrators, priests and bishops – eloquently describe their individual relationships with Father James for each had a special personal connection with him. I know almost half of the contributors and they are a diverse collection of persons.
|A chickadee eating nuts at St. Peter's|
These friends write of his skill in assisting them on their spiritual journeys less through direction than by questions and encouraging prayer and reflection.
Jeanine Loran, a teacher, said:
His instruction centred on stillness and breath, allowing the spirit of Jesus Christ to rest in the heart of my being. His mantra was “Abba” as the breath came in, and “Jesus” (pronounced as in French) as the breath was released. No matter what difficulty or joy, I was experiencing, the solution was always the same: rest in Christ. Be still and let God be within you.
He saw inside poet Jane Munro:
I felt he saw and celebrated my soul – encouraged me to become fully myself – and hoped that I might live a soul-based life.
Trevor Herriot, a prairie naturalist and writer, spoke of receiving inspiration:
Funny how going off into the woods teaches us how to recognize and welcome angels. I swear that was a big part of what Father James learned and then tried to pass on to those who arrived at the doorstep of Maranatha. Go to your dwelling place, your “cell” in the woods of your lonely soul, where God has sown the seeds of your great promise into the darkness. Wait there for the Lord who always comes in disguise.
It is no surprise many traveled hundreds of kilometres each year to visit Father James.
(On Wednesday I will conclude the review by recounting personal memories of Father James and discussing how the contributors dealt with his dying days.)