21 September 2007

What I do is me: for that I came.

I open by offering you a lovely poem by the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). You will enjoy it more if you read it aloud, hear the rhythm and play of his words –

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
Crying “What I do is me: for that I came."

He describes the irresistible and utterly natural act of “selving” – of fully becoming oneself by means of what one is compelled to do in life. Manley goes on to say that this act is the very fulfillment of grace itself -

I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Christ - for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I am certainly not a religious person. But you also know I long for grace, for authenticity, for fulfillment. If one can get past Manley's Christian POV, the essential idea is wonderful: live in grace by being yourself, by doing what you naturally do.

I found a brief, entertaining homily, the inspiration for which was this same poem. I think the author does a fine job of illustrating the concept of the grace in selving with a story from his own backyard: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/prs/stign/homilies/2004-C/2004-e5c-homily1.html

The story of my year in Venice begins today, my birthday. It must begin here because it really began here four years ago, when I spent another birthday at this lovely little hotel in Venice. I was not expecting anything more than a brief vacation. Instead I experienced an awakening, a shift in nearly every aspect of my inner life. I have often called this awakening my “Sleeping Beauty moment.” I did not know I had been sleeping. I did not know I desired such change. But, once glimpsed, it was irresistible. And the drive to return here, to pursue further, has never ebbed.

I have had the privilege of celebrating each birthday and almost every “spring break” in this same spot since then. Every time I come here, my life gets better. I become more authentic, more self-aware, more satisfied. Perhaps more important, I find I have terrific energy and inspiration for my work in the studio after I have spent some hours “selving” along Venice’s streets and canals or here in Hotel Bel Sito.

I was lucky to find it at all. I owe a debt of gratitude to Susan Walton for leading me to this place that has played such an important role in shaping my life: my body, mind, and soul, my outlook, my attitude, my plans, my wishes, my hopes and dreams. I owe another to the charming people here who have treated me so well, who welcome me “home” each time with warmth and good humor.

Who was I before I came here? I already know the answer to that question all too well.

Who would I be now if I had not come here? I have no wish to know the answer to that question.

Venetians have an expression: Dime che so, ma non me dir chi gero.
“Tell me who I am, but not who I was.”

So it begins.