There are places on this planet where the air between heaven and earth is very thin. I experienced it once at a church garden in Ireland. The second time was at Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, NY. It's as though molecules of light have cleared out those of heaviness in the very atmosphere. You can feel it. I know I felt it when I traveled to Mount Savior at the end of March this past year. Winter had not released its grip and it was still bitterly cold. I was looking for some time alone where I could just "be."
There are two small cottages at the monastery which are rented to visitors looking for personal retreats. The monks, known as brothers, call them casa1 and casa2.I stayed in casa1. The cottage had everything a person would need - a kitchenette, bathroom, bedroom with single beds, and a small living room with a fireplace. There was an old radio with two channels, but no tv or any other form of entertainment. The bathroom towels had been washed so many times they were paper thin and scratchy. That was ok, though. John the Baptist dressed in camel hair and I bet that was scratchy too.
The brothers support themselves by bee keeping and raising sheep. The monastery has a gift store where honey and wool are sold. It also has a wide selection and range of books. During my weekend there I began a friendship with authors like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouen, and Anthony De Mello. Both Merton and Nouen had spent time at Mount Savior in the past.
I continued exploring and almost missed a significant piece of art hidden in an unlikely place. I saw something attached to a cement shed of sorts. I couldn't make out what it was so I walked closer. It was simple wire and wood screwed into a concrete wall. No elaborate religion here. It was stark. A man on a cross. Obscure. Naked to the elements - wind, rain, snow. Wire wound to form a figure. The position was telling. Head down, knees bent. Gravity pulling, suffering bowing, weakness bending. Meaning stripped down.
It made me stop. There was something about this primitive art that touched a chord. I wondered about the brother who had made it and why he had hung it where he had. I wondered how long it took to finish and if the wire had cut his fingers while working. It made me ask questions about my own art and my reasons for doing what I did.