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.


  1. Wonderful to see you back and what a lovely post!
    Reminds me of a Benedictine Brother Simon who took care of the small group of animals that the monastery used to keep. For many years, he awaited the birth of the first black lamb and when one finally arrived, he hoisted it upon his shoulders to carry it into the Chapel as part of an Easter celebration, as I recall. On the way, he collapsed and died. It has become the stuff of legend at the abbey.
    I remember it was Simon who greeted me upon my first visit and brought me into the monastery kitchen, Simon who took retreatants on rides around the property on his lawnmower, Simon who showed off his model train collection stored in the old tower, Simon who called "Good morning, Sunshine!" to me as I went in for Lauds. I suppose every abbey has their Father Stephen or Brother Simon and that's such an epiphany!

  2. Thank you for the wonderful story about Brother Simon, Barbara. It reminds me of how "necessary" we each are, in all of our oddities and peculiarities.

    I'm not sure if I am "back". I have some health challenges of late that are preoccupying me. Merton is always an accompanying presence for me, though, so I will post here when the spirit strikes.

  3. Nice post and nice blog! So glad to have found you!

    By chance, have you ever come across the entire video of "The Bangkok Conference?" I know it's available in audio and I've seen a clip in the First Run documentary, but I would love to see the entire address. Do you know if it's available anywhere? Thank you!!
    gerardsorme (at) gmail (dot com)

  4. Thank you, Mr. Sorme. There were both Dutch and Italian film crews at the conference. We are indebted to these companies for the clips of Merton's final hours. I would presume that one of them (the Dutch?) would have the entire footage, but I'm not sure if it is available anywhere.

  5. PS - Gerard, the person to ask about this is Jim Forest. He lives in Amsterdam and is very accessible and responsive to questions and conversations about Merton. Let me know if you need help in finding him.



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