Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thank you St. Benedict

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit a Cistercian monastery recently. I want to share some of the experience we had.

It isn't everyday that one has the privilege to get a glimpse into the world of a cloistered monastery. One of the most striking features of their world is the unity of vision, its all encompassing power. The beauty of it is the timelessness of the way of life that has been passed down and the intense commitment to the gospel. But in the monastery these things are made into art. Most striking is of course the architecture and the prayer life. The public may enter the church, but is confined to two small nooks on either side of the sanctuary. I can't describe the church well. It was made of stone and brick, very simple, neat, Roman arches, stained glass done by a dutchman. You can go to and there you can view some of the monastery.

Prayer. I had the sense that I was in a place sacred, intimate. We were in the chapel for Midday prayer. I have prayed Midday prayer before, but never with an entire religious community of monks. It was as if all the times I'd prayed it prior were just shadows of the real thing. Their life depends on prayer, feeds on prayer. If you took prayer away there would be no life. The mass and the liturgy of the hours are like a frame on which their life is built. It is hard for me to put into words, but in that moment I felt that I was hearing mother church praying on my behalf to the Lord.

Overall, I experienced the abbey as a huge work of art right down to the dirt which has been fashioned by God, nature and the monks. It has been a joint effort of God and man, God inspiring and man answering in prayer. It is evident, though, that their prayer doesn't cease, but has been embodied in their work. This is the beauty of the monastic life. It is a manifestation of the Church, a rich meditation on man's desire to be one with God.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Keep it REAL

This line from the Holy Father's Letter to Artists rocked me: "Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece." Those last words, if understood in light of the universal call of holiness, are intense and loaded; they are a meditation on the beauty of the soul created out of love and called to love every moment. The connections between art and this notion are rich. What does it mean to be an artist if not one who can express the weal and woe of their journey. Authentic art, I believe, is an expression of one's own journey. Have you ever taken in art that left you wondering what the point was or maybe the work was completely uninspiring? To illustrate this point think of trying to describe Venice Italy to someone when you've never been there yourself. How convincing would it be listening to you describe the temperment of a Venetian?

I'll end with Tarkovsky because he has a wonderful ability to synthesize his experience, his thought when it comes to this topic of truth and artistic vision:

"The striving for perfection leads an artist to make spiritual discoveries, to exert the utmost moral effort. Aspiration towards the absolute is the moving force in the development of mankind. For me the idea of realism in art is linked with that force. Art is realistic when it strives to express an ethical ideal. Realism is a striving for the truth, and truth is always beautiful. Here the aesthetic coincides with the ethical."