Retreat Directed by an Artist

So, last week I was “in retreat,” meaning that I had committed myself to five full days plus an evening of concentrating on one topic lead by one person, following a very close schedule, silence, and extra prayer and contemplation.

There are various kinds of retreats in the monastery, but I usually choose a “preached retreat.” This means that a particular person has been engaged to prepare talks (conferences) that a group chooses to attend. This summer, I chose the retreat entitled The Word as Artist that was given by Brother David Paul Lange from St. John’s Abbey.

Brother David loves the principles and organization of art, and in my mind, is a very fine artist. He had been in the art department when I was teaching at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, so I knew him by reputation.

For much of the retreat, his conferences were about some of the principles he introduced to us. For example, I recall “repetition,” which can have such a beautiful effect on a canvas, or “harmony,” when combined with repetition creates an even more fantastic effect. He used many famous paintings and illustrated within that art piece how the creator employed the principles.

Most of the retreat was revelatory for me because I am not acquainted with this area; I appreciate art but do not produce it. However, the most astounding revelations came to me as Brother David showed us the artwork in nature or in life. These are the deepest and most amazing concepts because here we can see God as the artist with absolutely no doubting.

Is anything more astounding than the tiny, gorgeous daisy coming up in between the pavers? Oh, yes, the magnificence of Niagara Falls cannot be denied, but it’s the intricate, delicate designs that wow our senses and truly show us that “the Word IS Artist.” I loved how I began a journey of wonder at God’s creations.

Mary Jane Berger, OSB

Photo: A star-shaped flower. Taken by Sister Nancy Bauer.