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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward (Part I)

Father James feeding a chickadee

(8. – 640.) Bush Dweller – Essays in Memory of Father James Gray, OSB edited by Donald Ward – In his introduction Don presents an indelible image of Father James standing in the bush at St. Peter’s Abbey in rural Saskatchewan with arms outstretched as chickadees he had befriended flutter around and land upon his hands to eat freshly shelled peanuts.

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

They recount powerful conversations over years, even decades of visits. Just as Father James took the time to build relationships with the birds he developed friendships with his visitors. He had the gift of creating close personal relationships. Where he drew the chickadees to him outside with peanuts he used tea, and sometimes single malt Scotch, inside to nurture his human friends.

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.)


  1. Bill - He sounds as though he was a fascinating man. And what a unique way to remember him. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. As a fellow English professor and lover of books I am sure you would have enjoyed talking with Father James.

  3. Hi Bill,

    Father James was a wonderful person -- I am honoured that you've included my photograph of chickadees in your post. As you likely know, it was taken at St. Peter's Abbey, a place where many birds have been tamed by Father James and others.

    For those interested, this photo was originally posted at http://prairienature.blogspot.ca/2011/02/handfeeding-chickadees-and-nuthatches.html -- there are several other pictures of chickadees (who no doubt would known Father James on that site.)

    All the best,


  4. Shelley: Thanks for the comment and kind words. Your photos of the chickadees at St. Peter's are wonderful.