February 11, 2011

The Bush Dweller was my friend

About Father James Gray, Tim Lilburn, GG award winning poet said, “Certain few people possess a genius for friendship and for listening; they hear the stories of others in such ample, creative, liberating ways that those who speak with them are quickened.”

It was only after my friend and mentor died that I became aware of the mountain of influence this solitary monk had on the minds and hearts of so many. In one of those remarkable human paradoxes, James Gray’s hermitage became, over the years, the secret refuge of hundreds. His solitary life was lived for others. His generosity of spirit is now planted in hearts across the country.

For my part, I'm thrilled and honoured to be included in this collection of essays in memory of Father James Gray OSB—Benedictine monk, professor of literature, hermit, spiritual father and advisor…Canada’s own Thomas Merton; but above all, my friend.

In this book there are stories about Fr. James from authors and poets such as Trevor Herriot, Jane Munro, and Jan Zwicky, as well as from artists, academics, teachers, journalists, monastics, social activists and gardeners.

Here is a short excerpt from my essay:
His life came rising and shining into this world, and when it set, a corner of the world was found a better place. To those of us privileged to know him, he was a model, mentor and friend. In his loving fraternity we discovered that friendship has to do with finding refuge in each others hearts. As mentor, we found through his counsel, a clearer sense of our own calling, our own giftedness and our own possibilities. As model, we grew alongside Father James’ own deep longing for peace—St. Benedict’s watchword. And in our better moments we were able to leave the domain of fear and be angry at injustice, and pray and in our own way work for peace. He used to say that humanity is still in swaddling clothes. But because of James Gray, some maturing has occurred—because he followed his own calling with single-minded determination and charity.
The last time we had tea with Fr. James he dropped his cup—the lip broke on the floor and tea splashed over the tile. The three of us, Deb and I, and Father James in his habit, got down on our knees and cleaned everything up with Kleenex. He joked that he'd better leave before he wrecked the place. We talked some more and then he left but not before giving us one of his vice-grip hugs. From the door, I watched him disappear down the hall of the Severin guest wing.
The image endures. And with it, memories like migratory cycles glide back to me fresh as spring and I thank God for the life of Father James—still somehow alive in me—and alive in the lives of so many more.


  1. He sounds like a wonderful man and friend. Congratulations on having an essay in the collection!

  2. Thanks Violet...wonderful man indeed: he would have been embarrassed about the book...but would have been the first one to write a book about everyone of his friends, in fact everyone he met.

  3. We all need somebody like this man in our lives. You've been blessed!
    Well done on your essay.

    Pam M.


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