“”Today I met God.” Akiane Kramarik was just four years old when she made that bold announcement to her formally faithless family. Needless to say, their lives haven’t quite been the same since.”
–Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry.
On a hot, muggy day in July 1995, Akiane Kramarik was born in the small town of Mount Morris, Illinois. When Akiane was just three weeks old her family received a strange call from a woman in the mountains of Armenia who was prophesying about the incredible future of a girl named Akiane. But since the woman was Christian, and the Kramariks were atheists, they disregarded the information.
At the age of four, Akiane began having visions. She says that God showed her the endless universe, its past and its future. In the biography, Akiane: Her Life, Her Art, Her Poetry, written by her mother, Foreli Kramarik, four year old Akiane describes God as “Light–warm and good.” The Kramaricks homeschooled their children, did not watch TV, and because of frequent moves, had very few friends. So Akiane’s parents knew that someone else was not influencing her sudden religious interest. Akiane’s mother, who was raised atheist, says she always thought God’s name to be “absurd and primitive.” Shocked and uncomfortable that Akiane had learned the word “god” on her own, her mother tried to convince her it was just a nightmare. But Akiane refused to listen, and continued talking about “the Light”.
Soon after Akiane began having visions she started showing an intense interest in drawing. She would sketch portraits on any surface available to her, including the walls, windows, and even her arms and legs. One morning at 4:00am, Akiane burst into her mother’s room waving a drawing of a woman’s face. She proudly told her mother, “This is her. This is my angel.” No one had ever discussed angels, or other supernatural beings with her before. Akiane simply told her bewildered mother, “Where Jesus takes me He teaches me how to draw.”
Akiane also has an uncanny ability to read peoples true emotions. Once, she was drawing a portrait of a happy looking woman, and though the woman was smiling, Akiane drew her with a very sad expression on her face. When the woman saw the finished portrait, she burst into tears. She admitted that her happiness was a false front, because she had just lost her only son.
When she was seven, Akiane first began using paint. She painted with such drive and stamina that her parents had to insist she take breaks from her artistic marathons, which would last for hours on end. She became completely “engrossed in her own world of colors, forms, and stories.” Unsure of why Akianne was so talented, her parents decided to sign her up for a local art class. Quivering with indignation, she came home from her first session and told her mother, “It was the dumbest lesson in my life. The teacher held on to my hand the whole time. That isn’t teaching—that’s cheating! I don’t need teachers. I need students.” That same week Akiane opened her own art classes for the neighborhood children.
One day Akiane’s parents come into her room to find her face glowing. According to the biography, when they ask what she was doing, she answered, “I was with God again, and I was told to pray continually. He showed me where He lived, and it was so light. He was whiter than the whitest of whites. I was climbing transparent stairs; underneath I saw gushing waterfalls. As I approached my Father in paradise, His body was pure light. What impressed me most were His gigantic hands—they were full of maps and events. Then He told me to memorize thousands upon thousands of wisdom words on a scroll that didn’t look like paper, but more like intense light. And in a few seconds I somehow got filled up. He told me that from now on I needed to get up very early to get ready for my mission. I hope someday I’ll be able to paint what I’ve seen.” And so her mission of bringing God’s messages to the world began.
Eight-year-old Akiane completed her masterpiece, Prince of Peace: The Resurrection, in just thirty hours. In this stunning portrait of Jesus, His head and shoulders take up the entire four-foot canvas. His short golden brown hair and beard rest casually on His strong sturdy face. Jesus’ eyes are the most impressive, however. Thick, dark eyebrows contrast their indescribable beauty. Different shades of greens, blues, and yellows make His eyes look so human, or even more than human. His steady, welcoming gaze seems to stare straight at the viewer, and it follows one wherever one goes. In this painting, Jesus speaks with His eyes. Calm and content, the message they speak is peace.
Experts have compared the Prince of Peace with the Shroud of Turin, the proposed burial cloth of Jesus, and have found striking similarities. When put to scale, the images’ foreheads are the same size, and their eyes are the same distance apart. In both pieces, Jesus’ cheeks are the same size and shape. His nose is the same size and shape, and it overlaps the mustache in the same way. Also, Akiane has received letters from people who have had near death experiences, or visions of Jesus, saying that her painting is exactly who they saw. This provides further evidence that Prince of Peace: the Resurrection could actually be what Jesus looks like.
Today, Akiane still receives visions and paints daily. She is nineteen years old, and lives in Sandpoint, Idaho with her four brothers. As co-founder of the Akiane Arts School at Foreli Academy, she plans to teach painting. The Kramariks are now Christian, but when asked what denomination she practices, Akiane replied, “I don’t belong to any religion. I belong to God.”
Akiane’s incredible life-like art is full of strange colors and symbols. Even she does not know what some of the symbols mean. For example, her painting The Pyramids, shows a row of white pyramids being beaten by ocean waves, and surrounded by bubbles. Even though not all of Akiane’s paintings are religious themed, they all contain an important message that she emphasizes comes from God.
Akiane’s work deserves wider recognition. Most people today do not know about her visions of Jesus, or the art these inspired. Akiane’s paintings are deeply spiritual, and the messages they contain are beautiful. In fact, it can be argued that the paintings convey messages God wants made known to the world. In the Prince of Peace it seems as if Jesus is always waiting for us. All we have to do is come to Him and be at peace. As Christians, we are called to be instruments of peace, and I think that ultimately, peace is the message God is trying to make known through all of Akiane’s work. Akiane’s story shows that God may choose anyone, no matter his or her religious background, to be an instrument of His will.
It happened last summer when I, an avid hiker, went on a backpacking trip. I enjoy the wilderness, the wind in the trees, the patter of rain. This summer I planned a trip to the renowned Freedom State Forest in Massachusetts. Packing all my necessities for the trip, I drove to the trail head. After gathering all my belongings I started out on a clear blue day. The trip started out like any of the other dozen backpacking trips I have taken. As I was hiking, thunder began to boom and it was not long afterward that rain began to pour heavily on the mountain.
Looking for a suitable place to put up some temporary shelter I spied an old cabin. As the sky began to get darker I stumbled towards it planning on using if for the night. I was almost at the cabin when suddenly, in the dim light, the cabin shimmered out of sight. It disappeared. After looking closer, however, I noticed that it was still there and decided that my mind was just playing tricks on me. As I neared the shelter, I noticed that the door was ajar but from the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, it was obvious that nobody was using it. I slipped inside and after a brief scan decided to bed there for the night. Inside the cabin just small single bed and a two windows on the sides of the room. As I laid there that night falling asleep, my eyes looked towards the window on the wall opposite my bed.
And then, out of the darkness, a face appeared in the window. I lost my breath. It was a white face that seemed to glow in the darkness. It had eyes sunken in to the point that there appeared to be just black holes. His nose was disfigured. It looked like it had just rotted away. But worst was the Face’s mouth. It was wide open and I could see darkness inside of it. The teeth were ground down, short and blunt. It stared at me but I couldn’t breathe. After a few seconds of this agonizing panic, the Face began smile as if it knew it had a dinner. I did not know what to do. I could hear the door opening. Looking away I noticed something I hadn’t before. On wall by the side of my bed was a small concealed door. I didn’t hesitate. Lifting the latch, I ran outside leaving my backpack and all my belongings in the room. I ran into the now pouring rain with one goal. To get to my car and get out of this forest. In the dim lighting, I couldn’t find my return path but as I heard the footsteps behind me coming closer, I blindly ran. I ran for hours until I fell, exhausted, at stream. The darkness was everywhere now and I had no flashlight. I decided to wait for the morning to leave this god forsaken forest. I hid under a bush and rolled up into a ball. I didn’t sleep that night. There was an excruciating smell that smelt like nothing other than rotting bodies. As the stream gurgled and sang, I lay there hoping with the slightest hope that there might be a light and the end.
As dawn came I heard the footsteps and arising, I came out of my hiding place. Looking around me, I tried to find the trail to take me home but it was out of sight. I decided to follow the stream. After spending the early morning hours walking downstream. I discovered the path that I knew would take me back home. Heading back the way I came I grimly started recognizing the landmarks from last night’s terror. But as I got to the place where the cabin lay last night I noticed something that shocked me. The cabin was gone and in it’s place lay a dark, grim graveyard. Curious, I stepped closer but as I took a second look, I noticed that one of the tombstones had my name engraved on it. I returned to the path and started running towards the trailhead.. As I neared the parking lot, I sighed with relief at the glorious sight of my car. I reached under the front fender where I always hide my keys and grabbed them. Unlocking my car I sat down in the driver’s seat and sighed. I made it. But then, as I started to back out, I looked behind me and there, in the rear seat, sat the man with the white face, him mouth open wide.
Fr. Francis, Mrs. Neill, fellow graduates, family, and friends. Welcome. We are here to celebrate the closing of one stage of our lives and the opening of another. Graduation is a time where we mark the conclusion of a foundational grade school education and the beginning of a new phase of our lives—whether that be entering high school, college, or starting a new job. We will be spreading our wings for the first time. And all of this would not be possible were it not for the key figures who have guided us throughout the years. We owe them an immense amount of gratitude and appreciation. We particularly thank all of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey for their commitment and the support they provide us year in and year out; we thank Mrs. Neill for her dedication—she has worked to provide us with a supportive educational community within which our own homeschooling families are able to thrive—; but most especially, we thank our parents for the many sacrifices they made in order to furnish us with an education that is an invaluable foundation for our future lives.
Last October, I was accepted into Thomas Aquinas College. In that moment I was overwhelmed by the excitement of diving into a great books education. And as the weeks stretched into months, I began to realize what my acceptance to the college truly meant and I recognized that education is a grace. And it is a grace each one of us graduating here today is meant to receive. The education we have all been given is a “special grace” primarily meant for our sanctification and for the benefit of our entire society as well. Though it is not necessarily pertaining to a sacrament, the grace of an education nevertheless comes from God; St. Paul defines the specific type of grace education represents as “a gift” and “a benefit”. In Romans chapter 12 verses 6-8, he gives examples of such gifts; he names the gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, liberality, zeal, mercy, and cheerfulness. All of these gifts (and many more not specifically mentioned) are a type of grace because by developing our natural endowments through education, it permits God’s life, which is grace, to flourish in us so that we are able to contribute to our society and to the sanctification of others. This is the true heart of education.
While we all travel along different paths, we all are at the same crossroads in life, having been given the choice to transform our education into an opportunity of grace, both on a personal and global level. Each path can be of equal importance since by our unique differences we complete our community. For instance, some of us may favor the engineering field and design a surgical robot; others might dive into the world of music and open a child’s eyes to the wonderful world of Bach and Beethoven; others might choose to delve into the world of literature through writing and teaching, while still others may end up joining the film industry and reflect beauty through the media. All of these efforts, whether great or small, to share your gifts in the world are a worthwhile endeavor that will develop yourself and strengthen your community. In his Letter to Artists, Pope St. John Paul II defines this effort as turning one’s life into a work of art—something that will give glory to God. He reminds us that we are the stewards of our own lives when he says, “…all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life…they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”
But question is, how do we do this? How do we mold our lives into a work of art? And although, there are many possibilities out there, I think that the ready answer is to be the “lights in the world” by using our natural gifts—a light that brings the witness of God’s love and the message of hope unconditionally to our society. Over the years we have been given concrete examples on how to do this from the people living around us, our families, teachers, and friends, and from people of the past, like historical figures and saints. One clear example of how to transform your life into a work of art is St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Carmelite who lived during the 1500s. She was well educated and particularly well known for her teaching ability, zeal, and cheerfulness. Commendably, St. Teresa didn’t horde her gifts; instead, she actively employed them. She used her teaching ability to reform the Carmelite order as well as to write several books. With immense zeal, she never gave up her endeavors even when confronted by intimidating obstacles. In these moments, she always retained her natural cheerfulness and unique sense of humor. She persevered to the end, benefiting her own society as well as our current one, because her life’s work was not an isolated event of the past. Over the past 500 years, thanks to St. Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite order continues to attract many people today and her written works are still being read, influencing countless people around the globe. Her life is a universal example of a work of art because it speaks across history, culture, and time.
And so as we graduates journey forward into the world, to wherever life brings us for these next four years and beyond, let us keep the example of St. Teresa of Avila in the back of our minds. She shows us that using our gifts in accordance to God’s Will can and will transform our education into an opportunity of grace not only for ourselves but for the people we come in contact with and perhaps even for the generations down the road, transforming each one of our lives into a masterpiece for the greater glory of God.
“I read in some book, maybe Holy Scripture that ‘all that is complex is not useful, and all that is useful is simple.’ This has been my whole life’s motto.” –Mikhail Kalashnikov
A genius self-taught Russian gun designer and inventor named Mikhail Kalashnikov put these words into actions when he recalled all the weapon failures his countrymen experienced during World War 2. The soldiers used overpower rifles and underpowered SMGs (submachine guns) in dirty and wet terrains which caused the weapons to constantly jam and malfunction. Kalashnikov wanted to make a battle rifle that would be durable, lethal, and simple enough so that anyone could operate it even without proper training. Although it took many different models to pass the Red Army’s firearm requirements, he eventually perfected his design which is now known as one of the most used and most iconic battle rifles in history, the AK47.
Mikhail Kalashnikov developed a passion for machinery at an early age and loved to pick, disassemble, and observe locks and how all the parts worked. Kalashnikov dreamed about inventing agricultural machinery, but was drafted to serve in the Red Army as a tank mechanic and later a tank commander. During the Battle of Bryansk, he was hit by shrapnel and was given six months of convalescent leave to recover. While in the hospital, Kalashnikov heard stories about how poorly armed the soldiers were compared to the Germans, who had far more superior firepower with their SMGs and stationary high rate of fire MGs (machine guns). After being discharged from the hospital, Kalashnikov, wanting to protect Russia’s borders and people, immediately sought to make a new gun that would be made of durable but cheap materials so it could be mass-produced. It would be simple enough so that it could be cleaned in a matter of seconds. Also, the rifle needed to take a mid-ranged rifle round, and operate even in the dirtiest and harshest conditions. Kalashnikov heard that the army was sponsoring a weapons contest for a new SMG. He submitted his is first model which was a SMG that he had built with the help of the local railroad machine shop, but lost the contest to another gun designer. Time after time, model after model, Kalashnikov lost the contests until coming up with a design that instead of having all the parts compacted and closely together, let them have plenty of space in between each part and letting them “hang with complete freedom”. This allowed the weapon to almost never jam and would be resistant to the elements. He designed the rifle to take a 30 round magazine and chambered the gun to take the 7.62×39 cartage. He also designed it to use a long-stroke gas piston that allowed the gun to use the gases following the fired bullet to blow back the bolt, cock the hammer, and chamber a new round. Kalashnikov used sheet metal to make a stamped receiver (body) and used wood to make the foregrip, pistol grip, and buttstock for the weapon. The end result was the very first prototype of the future AK47.
After creating first functioning prototype, Kalashnikov immediately submitted the rifle into the contest. The rifle went through many different “torture” tests that included the rifle being thrown in mud, sand, and water for long periods of time. The test was so agonizing to Kalashnikov that he couldn’t even bare to look at what was happening to his rifle with his own eyes. The rifle passed all the tests with flying colors and immediately caught the eye of the army. Although a few modifications had to be made to the rifle, like switching to a milled-out steal receiver because factories could not produce sheet metal receivers fast enough, and other little tweaks. None the less, the army was so impressed with its ruggedness and consistency that they wanted Kalashnikovs rifle to become the official rifle used in Russia’s military. The rifle was named AK47, short for “Avtomat Kalashnikov 1947”. This means “Automatic Kalashnikov” and the date stands for the year it was officially in production.
Kalashnikov’s invention was first used in the Hungarian Revolt in 1956 when a few selected Soviet units were ordered to eliminate nationalist rioting on the streets of Budapest. After that, an estimated guess of 55 million AK47s and other later models have been used or made in 55 different countries since 1949. Its first use in an official war was in Vietnam when China supplied thousands of AK47s to the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) that received them as a gift from Russia. Since the NVA was so unexperienced with firearms, most never learned to clean the rifle or check for barrel obstructions. One American soldier in Vietnam recalled taking an AK47 from a dead NVA soldier and stored it in his locker. Two months later when he decided to take it out and shoot it, noticed that the bolt was rusted shut and kicked it open with his boot, loaded it, and fired it continuously. Ever since Vietnam, the Ak47 has been used in almost every single conflict including modern wars like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Although Kalashnikov’s invention has been modernized to fit the need of modern military, the concept and interior design stays the same. This weapon is used by good and bad alike, justly and unjustly. Someone once asked Kalashnikov, ”How do you feel about you design being used by terrorist organizations to cause millions of deaths around the world?” His reply was, “I only made the weapon to protect Russia’s boarders and interests, not to take part in innocent death.” Kalashnikov died at the age of 94 and is known as a hero in Russia for is selfless service in making the AK47. Although it is very hard to look at this weapon as a work of art or beautiful, the AK47 has shown its effectiveness because of its craftsmanship and beauty of simplicity. The AK47 has proven itself worthy of combat and will be used for many decades to come.
Cold and still was the morning mist as the sun remained hidden from the awakening land. A thin layer of fog hung low over the grand lake, and the trees and surrounding mountains stood motionless and undisturbed. The forest waited in silence for the one who would finally come. Everything was still. Then, like a flame, an enormous scarlet creature spread its powerful wings as it emerged from the other side of the mountains and, with effortless grace, dove into the delicate cloud of fog. It flew closely over the lake, causing waves to ripple below her with every subtle wing beat. The cool moist air stirred within her nostrils and trailed off as it was exhaled into hot steam. Dew drops trickled off the scales of the enormous red beast as she hovered through the fog. When the bank of the opposing side of the lake came to her sight, the dragon beat her immense wings to permit landing. Her hind legs sunk into wet grass first, and, folding her wings, the dragon beheld the hidden tunnel formed by the dense trees. She approached the entrance while gazing with curiosity down the misty passageway, which seemed to go on and on. She stood her ground for a violent blast of wind to come and forbid her entry. But there was no such thing. She stood there in puzzlement, for it had kept previous intruders away, so she had heard. Instead, a gentle draft blew from behind. The dragon peered down at her four sharp-clawed feet as the leaves brushed against them and into the green forest. It grew into a roaring gush of wind bidding her entry. The wind billowed, forcing her to stand firmly against the powerful current. Once the wind calmed itself, the dragon took her forefoot and set it cautiously upon the soft earth. She took one step, then another. Soon, the dragon found herself making her way down the forsaken path. Never would it have occurred to her that she was walking in the footsteps of the many who had been down this very same path not long ago, for any indication of previous use was erased over time. The soil was soft on the dragons feet and bid her welcome, but she was still uncertain of what might happen upon her entrance. Getting this far was beyond her expectations. All she could do was proceed. Although she was alert for the unexpected, the dragon began to feel more at ease, for her stiffness was starting to subside. Everything about this trail in the forest, which at first appeared to be eerie, became quite peaceful and serene. Any fear she felt faded with the mist at the rising of the bright morning sun. Its shining rays peeked though the trees, creating patches of scattered sunlight all throughout the path. The warmth on her hide varied with the dappled light as she continued on. After a few moments of taking in the transforming and enveloping splendor, the dragon began to feel the weight of the sorrow, hopes, and memories, which was not her own. With a mysteriously heavy heart, she wondered how much longer the road would go on for. Then a butterfly came by and fluttered around her. The dragon was entranced, because it was like no butterfly she had ever seen before. Not only were the purple and blue wings captivating, but also, the linings were not black. They were silver, which glistened in the sunlight. Her admiration was interrupted as the butterfly flew away and unveiled the presence of a giant wolf with long red and white fur. With valiance, he stood guarding the rest of the path. His sharp eyes, which were just as green and vibrant as the forest surrounding them, were fixed on hers as he studied the dragon’s disposition from a distance. As the dragon noticed the stature of the wolf was not much smaller than her own, she found his stare to be strangely familiar. The pause between the two large red beasts ended as the wolf relaxed his ears and gave a little wag of his long curvy tail. He turned and walked down the trail. The dragon followed. With each and every step, the tunnel was getting brighter and brighter. A glistening silver gate came into view and opened before them. Everything was white for a moment as they passed through. Her eyes regained sight and focused on the azure sky. The end of the trail had finally come. They had approached a beautiful hidden meadow filled with white roses, which gave off their distinct aroma. In the meadow was a circular lake with a towering structure made of white marble standing in its center. The pillars, each having a huge bowl of overflowing water at their top, spiraled and formed steps from the water up to a platform. Whatever was atop the platform was too high for the dragon to see. The dragon spread her wings, but before she could spring into the air, the wolf barked at her. She turned her neck and glanced back at the wolf. He just stared back and sat down. She would just have to take the steps on the pillars up to the top. She walked through the roses over to the water, which had the white petals floating on it surface. The dragon paused to look up at the platform above her. This was why she was here. What awaited her there was completely unknown to her. Taking each of the large marble slab steps across, she made it to the stairs that spiraled all the way to the top. They were wide enough for her passage. So she continued, knowing nothing would ever be the same once she reached the top. Change was in no doubt upon her and possibly the world. Then she caught a scent so familiar and sweet. Wondering what it could be and reaching the final steps, her question was answered.