Mac Gimse



FROM FUGITIVES TO REFUGEES –

WALKING THE WORLD WITH COURAGE.

Prepared for the Delta Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa at St. Olaf College. April 21, 2006

Mac Gimse, Professor Emeritus of Art.


1. Thank you, President Lennox, for a chance to address the smartest audience I will ever have, including parents who are present to see their children inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. I am happy to speak at the initiation banquet honoring our top scholars. In fact, I am ecstatic to be able to share with you the passions which led me to St. Olaf in 1970, then sent me around the world many times with students, all the while challenging me to absorb new fields of knowledge and adapt to new styles of teaching. I am here tonight to present sculpture and poetry which are the result of my creative experience at St. Olaf. This place gave me my destiny as an artist and professor. It gave me the chance to fulfill my dream of teaching in a liberal arts curriculum set in theological dialogue, which was constantly inspired by many students and esteemed colleagues.


2. First I will pass around small versions of the bronze sculpture pieces, BEARING THE BURDEN OF PEACE and ROOTS AND WINGS, but be careful, they are heavy. It is important that you touch them because I made them in clay with my fingers. You will experience them better if you touch them, too.


3. President Thomforde startled me when he said at his first St. Olaf commencement that ALUMNA/ALUMNUS is like becoming an ALIEN – someone who no longer belongs or does not feel part of a particular group or society. Alumna/alumnus also means FOSTER CHILD, a pupil who graduates. I should point out that at the moment of our birth, each of us is a FUGITIVE from our mother’s womb, because we cannot return to our place of origin.

a. That’s right, a FUGITIVE is not allowed to return. After that, you and I become REFUGEES from the protected environments of our family, then from our school, then from college, and finally we move into society in general. In a sense, we are EXILED from each in succession and we cannot return to an earlier time. We are always some kind of FUGITIVE. But we prefer to be REFUGEES who may be EXILED from each stage of life. However we can still go back, although never under the same conditions as when we left. In the case of St. Olaf, you will be welcomed back, possibly as staff or faculty, but certainly for reunions and other events. OK what am I saying? Well, at first you will feel strange when you come back on campus, but please come to see us. You will always and forever carry a part of your St. Olaf experience with you. Whenever possible, renew something of that experience, because after awhile you won’t feel so strange, and you will in fact enjoy being here with some of us who will remain familiar, although aging slightly…

b. Let’s look at it another way. Maybe you remember the innocence and beauty of your idealized childhood. You loved life, not because it was perfect, but because you were embraced by family and surrounded by friends. You most likely were taught determination by your teachers, compassion by clergy and sympathy by counselors, a moral point of view by your parents, and an ethical compass to guide you in the world by philosophers and theologians. In the sense of these values, you are neither a FUGITIVE nor a REFUGEE, but about to become a college graduate with a MISSION, formed by many people in your past, to engage in the work of the world.


4. Yes, in six weeks you will graduate, and although it is not possible to come back with the same status you have now, you have made a lasting impression on your advisers, your teachers and the staff of the college. As a member of the Delta Chapter Members-in-course Committee, I had a chance to look over many of your dossiers and they are impressive, with everything from helping to rebuild after KATRINA, to reading to ALZHEIMER’S patients! This is important for us to know about you! These are the attributes that round out your education at St. Olaf and prepare you to be a citizen in a community. For all of you today – a world citizen:

a. As I was growing up, I knew that the goal of education was to take “learning into life.”

b. In college, I figured out that the purpose of a liberal arts education was to take a “love of learning into life.”

c. When I arrived on the St. Olaf campus to teach in 1970, I quickly discovered that the commitment of a Christian Liberal Arts education is to take “learning to love into life.”


5. Each day I saw examples of this happening among OLES. The late Harold Ditmanson, a much respected Professor of Religion, for whom a wing of the library is named, told me when I was 35 years old in my first year here, “Mac, you must love those whom you would teach.” That was a challenge, because more than 6,000 students passed through my classes over the next 35 years. No record, of course, but I remember them as colleagues in the process of learning. I asked all of them to let me know when something significant happened to them. For them it was a postcard. Now I will ask you to do the same, except please send me an email at: gimse@stolaf.edu when you have a chance.


6. I knew many graduates who took “learning to love into life,” because they never forgot the education they received here and the people who guided them. However successful they were, they remembered that new students needed their help. This is not a plea for funds, it is an admonition for you to set examples of COURAGE, GENEROSITY, HUMANITY and INTEGRITY. We will watch as you grow into your careers, stand tall in your convictions, and grow deeper in your spiritual lives. You will never stop “learning to love.” And we want you to come back to share your life experiences with those of us still on the hill.


7. Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet born in 1945 wrote “…TRY TO PRAISE THE MUTILATED WORLD,” because he saw human conflict raging in the wake of 9/11. The MUTILATED WORLD gives us resonance because by recognizing the presence of those who live on the fringe, we learn to appreciate our blessings and develop compassion. My poetry is written to acknowledge the mutilated among us and everywhere. The world of immigrants continues to be MUTILATED as they desperately try to enter the USA. Some among you may be able to influence public policy on this issue. You will meet the mutilated early and often. Try to praise them for their determination to survive and their courage in the face of mortal danger. There are many challenges of this sort waiting for you, because so much of the world is not beautiful and contented. Spiritual beings find a divine light shining everywhere.


8. I want to share with you the poetry I wrote when I saw and heard the MEMORIAL CHIME TOWER, when was dedicated in September, 2003, after you arrived on campus. There are 118 chimes with names of students who died while attending St. Olaf. I personally knew 32 of them, and in a mystical way, the tower brings them back to campus, at least to my consciousness. I listen to the six notes from BEAUTIFUL SAVIOR and I can see their faces and hear their voices. It’s magical because at first I was moved to tears and later to joy for a sense of their presence here with me again.

a. You will not be given a chime with your name on it when you graduate, even though you may be dying to get out of here. But I assure you that you will be remembered because of the resonance you gave us in and beyond your academic achievements. So you depart with continued affection from your professors and friends.

b. When I sit down under the chimes, I find myself remembering students who are still alive, but are no longer on the hill. They are lingering memories of triumph in the classroom, spiritual awakening, giving time and energy to community activities, and becoming responsible adults in a challenging world. When you return to campus, walk through the chime tower and know you are remembered. Now I will share the poetry. Please respond on cue with the words …EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


Come to this peaceful pavilion

to absorb its presence.

Let the warmth of the wood,

the stretch of its beams

and a roof of split-stones

remind you of the dreams you had

when you first arrived at this place,

this vast experiment with living

away from the familiar.

…EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


How can this monument draw you

into its tranquil and symbolic center?

When you hear the singing chimes,

let the sounds you remember

of those never-to-be-forgotten,

ring through your quiet recollections.

As you think on separated histories

of spirit-friends, winds of urgency

will carry through these bright(ly) bells

your thanks for long-away joys.

…EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


When snow mounds cover benches

and gardens disappear,

how can you attach

your soul in this wintry scape

to those who call briskly

from their lofty chill?

Settle for a moment into the warmth

of your inner hearth

and hum a response to God

and to those above who linger still,

then declare your love

for someone near.

,,,EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


Inside the hollows of our last remorse,

we gather fragrance from flowers

we once sought to inhale

between each new remembering.

Those who have vanished,

but will always be cherished,

are released to fly again

into our consciousness

of what it is we need to know

about life in the future.

…EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


We move among our visions of yesterday,

singing through chimes of sadness

and dancing on cords of endless trust,

that will keep us always close

to this towering heartbeat

of chance,

of risk,

of caring.

…EVERY LIFE MATTERS.


by Mac Gimse ’58

September, 2003


7. Tell about the sculpture and recite the poem: ROOTS AND WINGS, by Mac Gimse, Professor Emeritus of Art, presented at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, February, 2004. Given to Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2002.

a. The cycle of life includes birth, childhood, youth, partnering, family, setting roots, flying from the nest and dying. OneÕs struggle for freedom is between planting roots and taking wing. The sculpture envisions this process using a variety of human forms and ethnic types. The bronze ROOTS AND WINGS is heavy, but it can be lifted by one person. It is easier if two or three share the burden (of life). Pick up ROOTS AND WINGS and pass it to someone along with your blessing of peace.

b. One WING has pre-natal forms following an umbilical cord (umbilicus mundi ) into birth. This is the beginning of human existence, and once set free from the womb, one will never return. On the opposite side children climb a rope (axis mundi) upward into community and along the way they learn, especially through play, to develop friendships and help each other.

c. A second WING is to remind us of the interdependence of family. On one side a woman embraces a child who remains dependent on her mother. From the other side a male figure reaches around to the woman and child in a gesture of family unity. Clinging to his leg is a passion-inspiring child (Putto ) whose presence signals love.

d. A third WING has a young couple flying from opposite ends into partnership in the center where they begin their life of love and childbearing. The other side carries the ROOTS AND WINGS theme. A figure looking downward, stands on a shelter (Habitat for Humanity), while roots grow up around him, a reference to non-violence (ahimsa) espoused by Mahavira in Jain religion. The female figure standing on his shoulders looks upward and sprouts Pegasus-like wings. Her crescent-shaped hooves tap a spring that waters plants whose fragrance deprives snakes of their poisonous venom. We can all participate in the process of peace from where we stand or anywhere along the path to peace.


STRIVING FOR PEACE: ROOTS AND WINGS

Our place for throwing sower’s seeds

is fenced on soils to stand

where toils of feet are planted

bending life to living land.


The harmony of humans is heard

as discord against the sound of kisses

boldly on our cheek from newborn fugitives

waking with their loud(ly) cries for freedom.


In childhood our deepest need is kinship,

however dear or distant, to fine-tune covenants

of decency that shape and savor

the fruits of all our labor.


Mothers cradle child on child,

and fathers search the fresh of earth,

to pass their hands of nurturing

through the springtime of our birth.


We come to plant the sowing seed,

stab fields through summer fires;

feel roots deep digging downward,

watching shoots loft into spires.


Rubbing is the true feel of poverty,

bruising into community refugees

without shelter whose die-threads weave

our gift of life into their plea for solidarity.


We stay to reap the planted seed

stride wing to wing in creation’s dance

to harvest all that nature knows

is given by God’s own chance.


So stand, flesh-on-bones,

wake now you and all humanity,

to speak our single-throated story

that beyond the stones which hold our walls,

we are cradled, all and only, by the sea.


8. Ask the audience for permission to share this recent poetry for the first time:

WEAVING DREAMS INTO LIFE by Mac Gimse


God of beauty in life and creative laughter,

of dancing arms and dazzling color fragments,

twirl us onto heights of dreaming

that our future is still ahead to hold.


God of spritely winds and vastly skies,

from melting polarscapes to the shifting sands of time,

reach along the endless shores of global warming,

then stretch us into common earthly caring.


God of truth in every breath and heartbeat,

molder of our righteous deeds,

pour us into shields of justice to triumph

over all who would be holier than Thou.


God of soaring spirits and redeeming actions,

of smoothing down and churning up,

pound human malice into submission

then nudge our good intentions to completion.


Cloud of God, in seamless gathering of sky,

spin the bulging wheel of centering that will

push us to the very edge of our horizons

then hurl us to our farthest measure.


God of dwelling in the loveliest and the lonely,

where beauty’s palette meets its master of disguise,

fill our lens with images of mercy

too precious to explain.


God of coursing through our veins of darkness,

stream compassion from our lips and fingers,

to weave our words and deeds of kindness

into simple human terms.


We share our feast of peace today with all humanity

where we are ready to devour one another

in quiet curiosity, and find what we truly know

is a heart of love in each of us.


9. Explain the sculpture and recite the poem, BEARING THE BURDEN OF PEACE: Sculpture and poetry by Mac Gimse, given to Nobel Co-laureates David Trimble and John Hume, Ireland, and the Nobel Institute in Oslo. St. Olaf College Nobel Peace Prize Forum, February, 2000.

a. The delicate transition between conception and birth is the beginning of BEARING THE BURDEN OF PEACE. One side of this bronze shows a woman holding the heavy burden of her pregnant stomach, anticipating childbirth. Mothers feel deep despair when they lose a child anywhere from the pre-natal state to maturity. The woman imagines her labor complete and her dream fulfilled as the child emerges from her head. Viewed from the other side a young man holds up the child and it becomes vulnerable to the outside world, to war, famine, poverty and abuse. Every country in the world faces the need to provide its children with nutrition, stability, and community, which are our continuing burdens of peace. BEARING THE BURDEN OF PEACE is meant to be touched and passed from person to person so that everyone will see the image, feel the forms and experience the weight of passing the burden of peace.

b. The poetry:

If peace is a form of ultimate human understanding,

before I pass into the heart of God’s surrounding,

I want to plunge my head into the seas of language

and drink from every tongue only the words of kindness.

Then with the taste of love in my mouth

I want to whisper silence on wars of shouting

at children of abuse, on races from hatred,

between embittered genders,

within unholy religions, and by angered nations.


If peace is death, as in rest in peace,

before I lie down underground – to cease,

I want to swaddle myself in unfamiliar clothing

and nestle into the smell of fresh-dug earth

next to the stones and bones of forgotten peoples.

Then I want to run my fingers through the silt of their sorrows

and quench their mourning thirst for those innocents

who were shed on never-again fields for letting blood.


If peace is kindled in children, our progeny,

before I garland my soul in bouquets of eternity,

I want to spill my seeds of final begetting

into the roots of the mercy tree, from which hangs

the last unChristly corpse of human harm.

And, for the yet unborn, I want to feel their blood

flowing through my flanks that soak tomorrow

in the deep red, ages past of all our origins.


If peace is tradition-passing,

before I give up my most prized possessions

of hair and teeth, of flesh and breath,

before I let go of hoards of family and hugs of friends,

I want to squeeze my soul through the martyr’s throat

to feel words of compassion as spoken by the lips of mercy:

If I “love my neighbor as myself,” there may be peace on earth.

Then I want to flood the world with the sweet sounds

of bearing the burdens of peace

using YOUR impressions not just my own,

of how and why we live.


Walk the world with courage –

“Peace be with you” “And also with you.”


Pictures of the two sculpture pieces are on my website: www.stolaf.edu/people/gimse