Monasteries and the Art of Simple
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.
There is a big wooden barn on the premises, located in the sheep pasture. It's like any other barn except that it has a white cross on it. Nothing fancy. Just an acknowledgement of a man who was born in a barn and died on a cross. There is a hill you have to go over just before you arrive at Mount Savior. As I crested that hill, the first thing visible was the barn.
Even though it was freezing, I took time to walk around the grounds. There wasn't much too see in the dead of winter. But I had nothing I had to do and nowhere I had to be.
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.
The morning I left Mount Savior, I did a small ink drawing on watercolor paper. The subject was a scraggly pine tree behind a rock wall outside my casa. The drawing was simple. I left it on the table underneath the house key, and closed the door.
I thought I'd write a few thoughts on art, life and whatever else comes to mind.