Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Arts. . . both gift and a call to service

What's not to love about the cello? A "voice" to die for. Sexy design. Polished finish that brings each wooden fiber to brilliant life. 

This instrument first thrust itself upon my consciousness in the PBS documentary, "Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound," that chronicles Baez's life. The segment that stood out for me was her 1993 visit to the destroyed and terrorized city of Sarajevo, Bosnia. She described her heart-rending encounter with Sarajevo Opera cellist Vedran Smajlovic. 

"Unable to stop the madness that had ripped apart the former Yugoslavia, Smajlovic honored the memory of his friends and defied their killers by doing the only thing he was good at. Placing his chair in the middle of the street, he took out cello and bow—musician and instrument melding into a single defiant force. Eyes closed to the surrounding destruction, he rendered the mournful Adagio in G minor by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni." 
Be it a musician, actor, painter, or writer, anyone else endowed with creative gifts, Smajlovic's offering to his fellow Sarajevans represents an artist's supreme achievement: to become one with the work and with the audience. I imagine him getting up every morning, donning his tuxedo, as if he were going to play with his disbanded orchestra, and carrying chair and cello out onto the dangerous street to play Albinoni's soulful Adagio in G minor. 
I imagine Michelangelo on the scaffolds of the Sistine Chapel, Antoni Gaudi living the last years of his life in the dusty construction site of Barcelona's (still-unfinished) Sagrada Familia Basilica.
I think of Victor Hugo in 1861-1862, melding himself with his idealized man, Jean Valjean.

The great gift of artists is that they do not hoard their transcendent experience, but allow us differently skilled humans an opportunity to transport ourselves in spirit to a higher realm of contemplative unity, be it ever so brief. Wise beyond human comprehension are those artists who are fully conscious of their lofty and sacred calling, to inspire our world and make the world a better place for everyone.

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I invite you to read my book, The Soul of Art, available at all online booksellers in both paperback and ebook formats.

My Art and Soul retreats/workshops explore the sacred source of artistic gifts and the mission of those so blessed to share the fruit of their talents with others for the betterment of our Sarajevo-like world.

Next retreat/workshop:

Saturday, June 24, 2017
9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

San Damiano Retreat House
Danville, California
Cost: $55

For information about this event or to book future events, contact

(c) 2017 by Alfred J. Garrotto
All rights reserved

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Carnal Wisdom

In late November (2016), I fell down a set of concrete stairs at the Powell Street BART (rapid transit) station in downtown San Francisco, CA. After tumbling head over heels to the bottom, I did a quick check of my sundry pieces and body parts and realized that all I had broken was my ego. Based on spills I'd taken before, I decided to wait it out until the scraped skin and soreness healed on their own. By the time I returned home that evening, however, I knew something was wrong. I'd injured my bloody and painful left shin pretty badly. 

Several days later, the wound became infected and I ended up in the hospital--for four days! Following that unwanted disruption in my active life, I began a rehab process that is just now coming to an end, three months later. It turned out that what I considered a superficial wound had created a blood clot that went nearly to the bone.

I like to believe there's always something good that comes out of the not-so-good stuff that happens to me. My life experience has proven that to be true over and over again. This time was no different. Week by week, as the nurses dressed, treated, and redressed my open wound, I experienced an amazing, close-up revelation and realization that my carnal flesh has a profound, even spiritual, wisdom of its own. I'm sure this isn't news to people in the physical and medical sciences. As long as we kept the wound clean, my leg knew exactly how to reconstruct its damaged tissues, layer by layer, in perfect order.

The result? I have a new awe-filled appreciation for the intelligence of my flesh and bones. You might read this and say, "Duh, what's so new about that?" Well, for this guy who lives in his head and the clouds most of the time, it's big news! 

(c) 2017 by Alfred J. Garrotto

All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Signs of Wisdom: A Reflection on Sirach 4:11-19

"Wisdom brings up her children and takes care of those who look for her. Whoever loves her loves life. Those who rise early in the morning in search of her will be filled with joy. Whoever possesses her will have glory and wherever he goes blessings will follow. Those who serve her are ministers of the Holy One; those who love her are loved of the Lord. He who listens to her will have good judgment. He who obeys her will rest in safety. Whoever trusts in her will possess her and his children after him will inherit her. For in the beginning she will lead him by rough paths, causing him to fear and be terrified; she will plague him with her discipline until she can count on him; and she will put him to the test by her demands. Then she will lead him on a level path, give him joy and reveal her secrets to him. But if he wanders from the path, she will abandon him and allow him to be lost."

                                               Book of Sirach

The ancient teacher Sirach speaks of two signs that tell me when I am in the presence of wisdom:
1) Love of life
2) A sense of internal joy

And like that wise man, I can attest from my experience of life that wisdom's fruit--joy and love of life--is born of trial and failure. 

•  I have walked rough paths on the way to becoming the person I am today (still in process, but gaining ground). Everything I was taught in my early life told me I would find all the happiness I wanted, or at least could hope for in this "veil of tears," within my chosen vocation. I didn't.
•  I have passed though the fire of fear and terror. It hasn't ended but fear no longer has me by the throat.
•  "She will put him to the test." Over thirty years ago, I sloughed off the safety net that kept me in a comfortable prison. What amazes me even now is that, all the while, I was loving and serving the Lord and making a positive difference in some peoples' lives. Dare I say, many? This is a testament to God's ability to change crumbs into a feast.
•  "Then . . ." comes the "level path" of joy, insights, secrets revealed. In this last portion of my life, I am putting things together, making spiritual and psychological connections as never before.

These may be signs that I am at last growing in wisdom.

Copyright (c) Alfred J. Garrotto
All rights reserved

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


My Favorite Sweatshirt

I own a treasured relic, never worn,
it's soft gray surface inscribed with indelible ink

unreadable scratchings
autographed in some secret code.This long-sleeved archive

evaded periodic closet purges.

Who signed my shirt that day?
Are they still in or out of the game?
Where went that younger me,
who knelt before gold'n green idols?
Where in my older self is the youth
who gushed in speechless awe?

 What will become of my Oakland A's shirt
when I've taken my place in the skybox beyond?

Alfred J. Garrotto
Author of the baseball story, There's More--A Novella of Life and Afterlife
#AlfredJGarrotto @alfredjgarrotto

(c) 2017 by Alfred J. Garrotto
All rights reserved

Monday, January 9, 2017

My favorite reads for 2016

Every year, I publish my list of top reads in three categories . . .
Fiction = Officer and Spy by Robert Harris (the trial and false conviction of Alfred Dreyfus) General Nonfiction = Driving the Getaway Car, by Ann Patchett (her life as a writer and best-selling author) Religious nonfiction (3-way tie)
  • My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman (beautiful reflections on life in the midst of suffering)
  • Run With the Horses by Eugene Peterson (about the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah)
  • God First Loved Us, by Antony Campbell, S.J. (Which God do you believe in?)
Alfred J. Garrotto Author, The Soul of Art