My Friendship with Baba's Painter, Lyn Ott

Lyn Ott with Meher Baba in India in 1967, The photo is a frame from "Beyond Words," a film by Louis von Gastern, who happened to be shooting that day. (And his bright lights enabled Lyn to see Baba!)

In Quest of the Face of God

Lyn's great book about his life in Art and his life with Meher Baba (unfortunately, never reprinted, so that Lyn's son Chris told me a few years ago that it is now only available for purchase here and there as a rare book) came out in 1980 or possibly early '81. I read it, no I devoured it, soon after. Although I've studied some Art History, Lyn's version, conveyed here and there through anecdotes and comments, was a Revelation!

I still remember many of the vision-changing things I read in the book: "Rembrandt painted every man and woman as a potential Saint." "Cezanne called black 'the queen of colors." Gertrude Stein, on her death bed, said, "What is the Answer?" and when no one replied, she said, "Well, then, what is the Question?" Meher Baba visited only on Art Museum in His Life on Earth: the Prado, in Madrid, Spain; and there, He bowed down to every painting of Christ. (I emulated him in a visit to my  hometown Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, after reading that, and found the experience utterly refreshing and enlivening...though I had to wait for a couple minutes before doing so, in a few cases, in order not to appear, well, rather eccentric to other museum-goers. 

It was my incredible fortune, after first meeting Lyn and Phyllis Ott on my first visit to Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 1971, to become good friends with the Otts, and then, in an even more incredible stroke of Grace, to work with Lyn as his literary helper on a book he was writing, ten years later. The story is below.

Several months after I read Lyn's book, I found myself on the road, enroute by thumb, and later by Greyhound bus, to Myrtle Beach. I had been at my parents' home, recovering from one of several emotional breakdowns I experienced in my 20s and 30s. I began feeling strong...recovered, basically, and grew restless staying in such a static environment. In those days...and, actually, these days, too, I hope...I would act from what I felt was Intuition, sometimes in ways that made no sense to the "rational" people around. 

One day I felt guided to move from my parents' to an inexpensive room in an old but acceptable "trucker's hotel" in downtown St. Louis. I had never explored my own city, really, and began spending my days looking for work, going from office to office in the downtown buildings. I found some, too, with two young fellows who ran some kind of investment firm, and described themselves as "occultists". I don't even remember what I did for them, but they were jolly, light-hearted guys!

Often, I also wandered the cobblestone streets of Laclede's Landing, a tourist neighborhood sloping down a hill toward the Mississippi River from downtown. In the afternoons, I sometimes auditioned with my guitar, to sing at venues there, and almost got a job at one.

Evenings, I would go into various clubs and bistros holding up a Baba card and would announce, "God has returned to the world!" and such things. One time, a bouncer immediately looked me straight in the eye and motioned "OUT!" with his thumb; and I obliged.

But I felt I was being guided. I began to feel guided by the wind! I had just read Francis Brabazon's poem, The WInd of the Word, in which he describes meeting God in the wind in Australia's outback. And now, rather than copying him, I seemed to be having a similar experience!

And one night, the wind blew me out onto one of the Mississippi River bridges, and I stuck my thumb out...this was just before Thanksgiving in 1981...and someone stopped and I was on the way to Myrle Beach

Part of the St. Louis riverfront and the Eads Bridge, I believe, at night

After a day or so of hitch-hiking, I found myself in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I had finished college several years before. I stayed with a friend there for a couple of days before proceeding on. During this time, having established a close connection with the Otts, and having written an appreciative letter about Lyn's book, I phoned them and had a memorable talk. I told them I was on the way there.

A forest path at Meher Spiritual Center in Myrtle Beach. I looked for a photo of the unadorned green wooden gate, no longer there, by which I entered Center property on that trip in '81 (and promptly fell on my face, kissed the ground, and I think even ingested a tiny sample of the sandy soil! Forest like this is practically adjacent to the gate and covers most of the Center, with the exception of the central clearing, so it's not a bad presentation of what the Center looks like...except for the various cabins. 

Not long after arriving at the Center, I encountered Lyn one morning, I think in the sitting room that adjoins the Original Kitchen. We talked awhile, and I shared a few pieces I had written in a notebook...part of a whole book I wrote on my odyssey to Mytle Beach (one which was subsequently loaned to someone and lost). After I read Lyn a short stand-alone piece that proclaimed: "And the Lord of Hosts is the same as the Lord of Guests!"  he told me that he needed an assistant for a literary project he was working on, a novel about the Dutch artist Jan Vermeer. He asked whether I might be free to take on the job.

For the next 8 months or so, I felt I was in Heaven. My actual job was reading back to Lyn the chapter he had typed overnight, then making notes of improvements the reading made him aware of. Then I would re-type the chapter and read the new version to him the next day, until he felt it was exactly what he wanted.

I learned a great deal from this process about writing and editing. Part of the bonus of working with Lyn every weekday in his study was being in that powerful spiritual atmosphere, crammed with the paintings of Meher Baba that he had done before becoming totally blind in 1976. Many of the works were nearly  floor-to-ceiling-sized. 

The other huge "perk" of working with Lyn was the opportunity to bring up nearly anything under the sun that I wanted to learn about or discuss. Lyn had a unique mind. He simply loved existence, including incarnate life, and everything about the world interested him, from a spiritual point of view. In his presence, discussing simple scientific propositions that I asked him about, it was absolutely clear that what we call "chemisty" is in actuality some kind of divine alchemy, and that every process on Earth is sacred.

I vividly remember one day when I stayed for lunch. My parents were visiting, and the Otts invited them, too. As our afternoon progressed, I felt I was at the Lord's Banquet. Both the food and the spiritual wisdom seemed part of the cornucopia of God's Infinite Abundance. My parents did not consider themselves spiritual seekers, but they appreciated the Otts, and over the years their contact with Baba-lovers even got them to start going to Baba meetings and birthday parties back in St. Louis.

This period of Grace lasted for the better part of a year, after which I was called away from Myrtle Beach. I worked with Lyn again for a time some years later, and our friendship persisted for the six years that I lived back in the area in the 1990's. Nearly every day I think of Baba's bounty in allowing me to have so much companionship with this great man. Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai! 

Below: a wonderful work of Lyn's that it was my good fortune to purchase from him in 1971 for $50! The piece is atypical for a Lyn Ott. When I bought it, Lyn told me this story of its creation. He had done a charcoal sketch of Baba, and had put over it a layer of the orange wash you can see. At that point, his son Chris, who was fairly young then, came into the room, took a look at the piece, and said, "That one's done, Dad!" And Lyn felt Baba behind those words.