Wednesday, April 18, 2012 and Alcatraz, truth and grace

"Bliss Dance," a sculpture created by artist Marco Cochrane

Forty feet tall, she dances precariously on one foot to the beat of the bay wind. Sunlight and moonbeams pass through her steel mesh frame. Within her are imbedded a thousand tiny LED lights that can be controlled by an iPad application. Kinetic energy streams from this stationary not-so-tiny dancer on Treasure Island. 

What serendipity to meet this amazing creature. She was silhouetted against a golden late afternoon sky that morphed into chiaroscuro as clouds rolled over the bay. Then the sun punched through and shone down on art...and Alcatraz.

The old prison sits empty except for tours. I've trekked through a couple of times, once listened to an old gentleman who had been a guest of the establishment. An orphan in the wrong place at the wrong time, he had been hauled out of the backseat of a car whose driver robbed a store. Like most inhabitants of the island prison, he was first an escape artist. The young depression-era boy, terrified, alone in the world with no defender, kept running. All the way to The Rock. The prison superintendent and his wife took note of him and brought him into their home on many occasions. Their efforts resulted in his release. With the marriage of a rocky foundation and love, he built a life.

Ah, the strange juxtaposition of art and prison, choice and consequence. Freedom: at times, a dance, often an entreaty. Hear Rilke's words. [Think you're not creative? I beg your pardon. We are made in the very image of creation.]

Go into yourself...describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty - describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. 

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. - And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.
 ― Rainer Maria Rilke

"...your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories." For many, the memories are vicious. But Truth, the wellspring of grace, is rooted in that fallow ground. When I faced the facts about myself and others (kicking and screaming all the way) - with no excuses or revisionist history - acceptance followed. Haltingly. After all my plans went up in smoke and then down the hill in a flood...when the walls literally tumbled down...I hit the ground, too. Face-down. The mercy that had always been present washed over me. Bein' a good Southern girl who aspired to a gracious life, I finally learned the difference between gracious and grace-filled.  The former was, at best, good manners and, at worst, a performance; the latter, a gift. Here lies the eternal tension: Truth and Grace. You can't have one without the other.

Odd couples, you gotta love 'em.

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