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

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