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Tribute to a precious man

With Father Theophane’s death on Oct. 6, not only the Snowmass Monastery, but our whole valley. has lost one of its most precious living treasures.

Even though he was in constant pain because of a crippling arthritic condition (ankylosing spondilitis), he was one of the most carefree persons I ever met.

Whether he was in street clothes en route to reading stories to young children at Explore Booksellers, or decked out in outrageous amphibious gear for his weekly therapy at the Glenwood Hot Springs, Theophane’s presence touched people like a metal arrow, cutting through many layers and heading straight for the heart.

One woman from Red Cliff, a little mining town not far from Vail, reported that she was waiting for Mass to begin one Sunday, when into their tiny church this “street person” came hobbling in. Imagine her surprise when, a few minutes later, he appeared in the sanctuary fully garbed in the vestments of the celebrant – and her even greater surprise when he began speaking. “When he opened his mouth,” she said, “he literally blew me away.”

Another time he was one of the presenters at the Lama Foundation in New Mexico. This is an ecumenical gathering that includes the mystical branches of most world religions – Hindus, Jews, Sufis, Christians, Buddhists.

At the closing night, Theophane ended up in the Jewish group. He told them that they had come to appreciate various aspects of all the traditions represented there at the conference, but that there was one aspect of his own tradition that had been sorely neglected, and he was going to see to it tonight that it would get the full recognition it deserved. With that, he launched into “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” bringing down the house.

What is true of his “Tales From a Magic Monastery” – which has been translated worldwide – was eminently true of him and his way of interacting with people. There was something about him and his stories that was always unexpected, yet inevitable – infinitely familiar, yet completely surprising.

This utterly magical quality which Theophane possessed has no logical explanation. What Picasso once said of his own artistic genius is also true of Theophane’s religious genius: “I do not develop, I am.”

For what is without cause is also without hindrance; it obeys one law only – the law of freedom. This state which sprouts suddenly and in full glory, mysteriously and marvelously, now has a name. We may call it “Theophane.”

Joel Brence, M.D.

Aspen


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