Paul writes – Today I’m posting a brief interview with author and friend Steve Georgiou. In the interview I ask Steve about the role that poet, peacemaker and sage Robert Lax (1915-2000) has played in his life. The interview marks the publication of a revised Templegate edition of Steve’s 2002 publication The Way of the Dreamcatcher (Ottawa: Novalis).
But first, a little background on Robert Lax.
Robert Lax (1915-2000) was one of the premier minimalist poets of the twentieth century. He was the best friend of the monk and author Thomas Merton. Both were fellow students at Columbia University in New York.
Over the years Lax worked as a bartender, English instructor, circus clown, Hollywood screenwriter, editor at Time and The New Yorker, and as a roving reporter at Jubilee.
After Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, Lax converted to Catholicism and eventually became a hermit on the remote Greek isle of Patmos where he acquired a quiet reputation as a sage and mystic.
Georgiou serendipitously met Lax there in 1993. For the next seven years he intermittently returned to the "Isle of the Revelation" to learn from Lax about creativity, faith, and the power of compassion. These experiences are the basis of his book: The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit-Lessons With Robert Lax, Poet-Peacemaker-Sage (Novalis, 2002, republished by Templegate, 2010).
Why did you write The Way of the Dreamcatcher?
Something powerful took place the night that I met Lax. Even without knowing who he was, it became obvious to me that Lax was "a breed apart." He seemed the most spiritually authentic man I had ever met. His eyes and presence simply asked, "What do you love?" I had to find out more about him and, in the process of doing so, realized that I simply had to share his grace and wisdom with the world. I felt that his story and his message of universal love could help heal a planet that can sometimes feel like it's on the brink of the Apocalypse.
How has the experience of writing this book been formational for you since its initial publication?
In a sense, Dreamcatcher set the foundation for my academic, creative, and spiritual growth. The text delineates Lax's views on life, poetry, art, and the Spirit. It's essentially a seeker's book and paved the way for the sequel, Mystic Street: Meditations On A Spiritual Path(2007, Novalis) which focuses on my journey en route to the PhD in Theology, all the while guided by my memories of Lax. Just a few months ago the third and final volume of this "trilogy" was published, The Isle of Monte Cristo: Finding the Inner Treasure (Novalis, 2010) which deals with my experiences as a professor of religion, and how Lax's words and instruction helped to make this possible [I have previously reviewed The Isle of Monte Cristo here – Paul]
I'd say his emphasis to love all things unconditionally, intentionally, and to "go with the flow" of that love, the same flow that courses through the Holy Trinity. And the best way to love in this fashion is to live unencumbered--"less is more" he would say. Free of useless excess, we come to more clearly see our great role in the universe: to be loving ministers of creation. And since Lax "walked his talk," he really gave the right example. Sometimes the living example of a teacher, more than words and commands, can make all the difference.
Well, there's a new cover, (a shadow-shot of Lax and me), and everything is in black & white, including the inner section of photos--certainly B & W are great "building block colors" for a minimalist like Lax! There's also a new Preface explaining why Lax is an important (and timely) spiritual and creative figure to study. And there's some new opening and ending quotes, more endnotes, new reviews at the back, a bit of contents re-organization, and a few more poems by Lax. But the text is pretty much the same.
Who was your audience when you wrote Dreamcatcher? And what were you hoping that they might take away with them as a result of reading the book?
I believe I was thinking about younger searchers like myself when I wrote the book. A number of young people, particularly from Europe, actually traveled to Patmos in the hope of finding Lax and being given some word of advice. But as it turns out, a lot of spiritually minded elders like the book too--I've shared it with older folks at retreats. And every so often I get a letter from someone who says that the book came into his/her hands at the right time. They say the book has helped them see how integrated spirituality and creativity really are. Dreamcatcher has helped readers to discover the beauty of being alive in love, and "going with a greater flow."
You describe Robert as a "sage" and "mystic." Why? Can you give examples of these qualities?
Well, even when Lax was in his twenties and thirties, people who knew him felt that he was spiritually gifted. Merton, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Jack Kerouac, and others felt that love and a kind of happy bliss radiated out of him. Merton said that he was born with "an inborn direction to the living God." Really, it was enough just to be with him. Words weren't necessary--he just made me feel empowered, confident, and whole.
Sometimes he said things that had greater meaning days later. He balanced his Christian mysticism with related spiritual teachings of the East and West. I think he was highly intuitive – he was always "listening." I have dreamt of him now & then, and things sometimes happen which make me feel that he's still out there, giving me a hand when he can, as described in Mystic Street.
What "spirit-lessons" of Lax have you integrated into your own life?
I guess the importance of living life rustically, close to the earth, in rhythm with creation, and by doing so, getting closer to the Creator. I try to relax more, pray more, and love all things more despite the circumstances.
We are all works in progress, and each of us is gradually learning how to draw nearer to God. Trust, patience, forgiveness, and creative living are all good ways to move through life. We are called to gather things together with wisdom and compassion. Our brief time on earth has a lot to do with learning how to be a kind and responsible steward.
How has your friendship with Lax led you to see the world and your life circumstances in a new way?
As Dreamcatcher describes, when I first came to Patmos I felt far from love, having gone through various trials of the heart. Life seemed dark. But Lax let in the light; he helped to give me a new start. To some degree, the trilogy that has resulted from my meeting Lax has been a long process of rebirth, leading from searcher to student to teacher. The spiritual journey, of course, continues, but my meetings with Lax (and writing about them) have led me to see that the creative holiness of love can indeed become actual and manifest, and can make a positive difference in the world. We are all created to be channels of the Holy. Our real work is transfiguration.
You can visit Steve’s website, here.