Tuesday, September 14, 2021

September 14: Gone Out of the World, Art Award, "Gratia Plena"

Merton talks about a conversion . . .

I discovered that the young man with black hair, in dungarees, was a postulant. He was entering the monastery that day. That evening, at Compline, we who were standing up in the tribune at the back of the church could see him down there, in the choir, in his dark secular clothes, which made him easy to pick out, in the shadows, among the uniform white of the novices and monks. 

For a couple of days it was that way. Practically the first thing you noticed, when you looked at the choir, was this young man in secular clothes, among all the monks. 

Then suddenly we saw him no more. He was in white. They had given him an oblate’s habit, and you could not pick him out from the rest. 

The waters had closed over his head, and he was submerged in the community. He was lost. The world would hear of him no more. He had drowned to our society and become a Cistercian. 

Up in the guest house, somebody who happened to know who he was, told me a few facts about him, by way of a kind of obituary. I don’t know if I got them straight or not: but he was a convert. He came from a rather wealthy family in Pennsylvania, and had gone to one of the big Eastern universities, and had been on a vacation in the Bahama Islands when he had bumped into a priest who got to talking to him about the faith, and converted him. When he was baptized, his parents were so incensed that they cut him off, as the saying goes, without a penny. For a while he had worked as a pilot on one of the big air lines, flying planes to South America, but now that was all over. He was gone out of the world. Requiescat in pace. 

The young man with the black hair has made a great sacrifice for his beliefs.  Given up everything to follow his faith.  That's pretty much one of Christ's biggest messages in the gospels.  The apostles did it.  Martyrs and saints do it.  Anyone with passion and devotion does it.

Yes, I am still alive.  I offer no excuses.  My life has been busy and complicated these last few weeks.  Pretty much, by the time I get home and sit down on my couch, I want to do nothing more than grab a pillow and take a nap.  And I don't see my life becoming uncomplicated for several months.  So be it.

A couple days ago, something amazing happened.  I was presented and award for Arts Advocate of the Year.  I learned that I had been chosen for this recognition back in July, and I was sort of flabbergasted.  I love art.  All art.  I love artists.  All artists.  Sunday night, I was surrounded by my peeps, and I felt like I really belonged.

I've made sacrifices in my life to follow my heart for sure.  I gave up computer programming.  Been teaching part-time at a university for over 25 years because I love teaching young people about writing and literature and film and myth.  And I've been writing poetry.  A lot of it.

Along the way, I've made some amazing artist friends who have helped me and upheld me through many difficult times in my life.  And I have tried to do the same.  I believe in using my gifts and talents to somehow make the world a better place.  That, I guess, is my motto as an artist.  Art for art's sake is not for me.  Art for kindness and compassion and generosity and change--that's more my style.  Art for the sake of grace.

This past weekend was the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. Watching the ceremonies, I was reminded again of the power of grace, through art, to bring healing into troubled times.  Art reminds us that we are never alone, even in moments of great isolation and pain.  If I can be a part of bringing hope and light into the world through art, even in the smallest of ways, I think my life has meaning.

Saint Marty is one really luck guy.

A poem I wrote for this past weekend's awards ceremony . . . 

Gratia Plena: Full of Grace

by:  Martin Achatz

September 11, 2021

I imagine Van Gogh was, as he stood
in that field in Arles, paintbrush
in his hand, or Gershwin at his piano
while cobalt spilled from his fingertips.
And think of Emily in her room, stitching
her words together as she hummed
“Amazing Grace.” On this day,
twenty years later, after listening
to 2,983 names spoken, violins,
bells, silences, it hangs in the air
like tinseled firefly light. This
is what I know about grace.
It’s in that roll call on this blue
September morning, each syllable
blessed and blessing, from Aamoth
to Zukelman, winged on their way
by music, poem, charcoal rubbed
across paper until letters float
to its surface, like a face
emerging on a Polaroid.

This is grace, what we do
each day to lift each other up, help
each other remember, be remembered.
Painter, piano player, poet,
Mother, father, son, daughter.
All sunflowers. All rhapsodies. All
Angels in the early morning
Stooping, plucking, smiling, flying

August 27-30: Hidden in the Anonymity, Silent Heroes, Pandemic

Merton encounters anonymous heroes at the monastery . . .

When the church had practically emptied after the second round of Masses, I left and went to my room. When I next came back to Church it was to kneel in the high balcony in the far end of the nave, for Tierce and Sext and then None and the Conventual Mass. 

And now the church was full of light, and the monks stood in their stalls and bowed like white seas at the ends of the psalms, those slow, rich, sombre and yet lucid tones of the psalms, praising God in His new morning, thanking Him for the world He had created and for the life He continued to give to it. 

Those psalms, the singing of the monks, and especially the ferial tone for the Little Hours’ Hymns: what springs of life and strength and grace were in their singing! The whole earth came to life and bounded with new fruitfulness and significance in the joy of their simple and beautiful chanting that gradually built up to the climax of the Conventual Mass: splendid, I say, and yet this Cistercian liturgy in Lent was reduced to the ultimate in simplicity. Therefore it was all the more splendid, because the splendor was intellectual and affective, and not the mere flash and glitter of vestments and decorations. 

Two candles were lit on the bare altar. A plain wooden crucifix stood above the Tabernacle. The sanctuary was closed off with a curtain. The white altar cloth fell, at both ends, almost to the floor. The priest ascended the altar steps in a chasuble, accompanied by a deacon in alb and stole. And that was all. 

At intervals during the Mass, a monk in a cowl detached himself from the choir and went slowly and soberly to minister at the altar, with grave and solemn bows, walking with his long flowing sleeves dangling almost as low as his ankles... 

The eloquence of this liturgy was even more tremendous: and what it said was one, simple, cogent, tremendous truth: this church, the court of the Queen of Heaven, is the real capital of the country in which we are living. This is the center of all the vitality that is in America. This is the cause and reason why the nation is holding together. These men, hidden in the anonymity of their choir and their white cowls, are doing for their land what no army, no congress, no president could ever do as such: they are winning for it the grace and the protection and the friendship of God. 

I think that the world is full of anonymous heroes.  People who go about their daily business--praying or nursing or teaching or first responding--without a whole lot of fanfare.  They aren't looking for awards or fame or money.  They have a calling to do what they do, and that's it.  For Merton in this passage, it's the men wearing white cowls, praying deeply,  And he is feeling the call to become one of them.

It has been a long week of teaching and work.  Classes have begun again at the university, and COVID is on the rise in my neck of the woods.  Currently, all the other counties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are in red on the map.  That means high transmission.  My county remains in orange.  For the time being.  And nobody seems to be doing a thing to control the spread.

School superintendents don't want angry conservative parents pounding on their doors.  Businesses don't want to shut down.  Restaurants want to keep serving food.  Movie theaters want to keep showing movies.  Regardless of the fact that children are going to get sick, and immunocompromised people are in danger.  It's politics and economics versus science, and science is losing.

Of course, science has been losing out pretty much since the pandemic started.  Thus, we have hospitals being overrun again, and medical professionals who are at their breaking points.  There are not enough nurses and doctors and ICU beds to go around.  The silent heroes are tired and fed up with the pandemic of stupidity that's spreading faster than the coronavirus.

Yes, this post is a bit of a rant.  It's also a salute to those people who continue to put themselves in danger to deliver medical care and educations and groceries.  I think everyone could be silent heroes right now.  It's easy.  Put on a mask.  Stop complaining.  Accept the science.  Realize that COVID doesn't care whether you're Republican, Democrat, or a Jedi.  What heroes do is simple:  they don't think of themselves first.  Heroes think of the needs of others first.  For my Christian followers, I believe that was one of the most important messages that Jesus Christ delivers in the gospels.  Over and over and over and over.

So, if you're not wearing a mask, if you're attending school board meetings and screaming about your rights being infringed upon, if you're railing against vaccinations, realize this one fact:  you are NOT a hero or a patriot.  You are a selfish, self-absorbed moron who is perpetuating this pandemic, not bringing it to an end.  Sorry, not sorry.

Yes, Saint Marty is wearing his angry eyes right now.

NOTE:  This post was written a few weeks ago.  I didn't publish it until now because I thought it was too angry.  Perhaps too confrontational.  Now, I don't think it's confrontational enough.  The whole United States is blowing up with COVID again.  So, shut up.  Put your damn masks on.  Get your vaccinations.  Stop being assholes.