Monday, November 12, 2007

elegy for a trappist

[poem Merton wrote after Father Stephen's burial]


Maybe the martyrology until today
Has found not fitting word to describe you
Confessor of exotic roses
Martyr of unbelievable gardens

Whom we will always remember
As a tender-hearted careworn
Generous unsteady cliff
Lurching in the cloister
Like a friendly freight train
To some uncertain station

Master of the sudden enthusiastic gift
In an avalanche
Of flower catalogues
And boundless love.

Sometimes a little dangerous at corners
Vainly trying to smuggle
Some enormous and perfect bouquet
To a side altar
In the sleeves of your cowl

In the dark before dawn
On the day of your burial
A big truck with lights
Moved like a battle cruiser
Toward the gate
Past your abandoned and silent garden

The brief glare
Lit up the grottos, pyramids and presences
One by one
Then the gate swung red
And clattered shut in the giant lights
And everything was gone

As if Leviathan
Hot on the scent of some other blood
Had passed you by
And never saw you hiding in the flowers.

Thomas Merton. The Collected Poem of Thomas Merton. New York: New Directions, Inc., 1977: 631- 632.

Monday, November 5, 2007

father stephen

[Transcribed from an oral presentation:]

There was an old Father at Gethsemani-one of those people you get in every large community, who was regarded as sort of a funny fellow. Really he was a saint. He died a beautiful death and, after he died, everyone realized how much they loved him and admired him, even though he had consistently done all the wrong things throughout his life. He was absolutely obsessed with gardening, but he had an abbot for a long time who insisted he should do anything but gardening, on principle; it was self-will to do what you liked to do. Father Stephen, however, could not keep from gardening. He was forbidden to garden, but you would see him surreptitiously planting things. Finally, when the old abbot died and the new abbot came in, it was tacitly understood that Father Stephen was never going to do anything except gardening, and so they put him on the list of appointments as gardener, and he just gardened from morning to night. He never came to Office, never came to anything, he just dug in his garden. He put his whole life into this and everybody sort of laughed at it. But he would do very good things-for instance, your parents might come down to see you, and you would hear a rustle in the bushes as though a moose were coming down, and Father Stephen would come rushing up with a big bouquet of flowers.

On the feast of St. Francis three years ago, he was coming in from his garden about dinner time and he went into another little garden and lay down on the ground under a tree, near a statue of Our Lady, and someone walked by and thought, "Whatever is he doing now?" and Father Stephen looked up at him and waved and lay down and died. The next day was his funeral and the birds were singing and the sun was bright and it was as though the whole of nature was right in there with Father Stephen. He didn't have to be unusual in that way: that was the way it panned out. This was a development that was frustrated, diverted into a funny little channel, but the real meaning of our life is to develop people who really love God and who radiate love, not in a sense that they feel a great deal of love, but that they simply are people full of love who keep the fire of love burning in the world. For that they have to be fully unified and fully themselves-real people.

Thomas Merton. "The Life that Unifies" in Thomas Merton in Alaska. New York: New Directions Publishing Corp., 1988:148-149.