Inspiration and tragedy

Van Gogh

I had the privilege of visiting the ‘Van Gogh’ Alive experience in Edinburgh with a friend today. It was an immersive experience of the artistic development of Van Gogh, featuring many of his most well known works on enormous screens, with some meaningful quotations from his letters, and some evocative music. I feel as if I have been to France and back in a day!

I love Van Gogh, and visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam a few years ago. Seeing the colour and textures of his paintings was inspiring and deeply moving. Van Gogh led such a troubled life, but had such insight and a perception of the beauty in the ordinary- in the lives of miners and peasants. The intensity of his later work- his stylised use of colour to portray nature, from sunflowers, to open fields, to his famous ‘starry night’ is unsurpassed.

A quotation from him that I resonate with goes as follows: ‘ the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore’.

Van Gogh was brought up in a Christian family, and for a while saw himself as a missionary. Then his connection with the church loosened, but his deep spirituality remained. He saw beauty everywhere, and understood the intrinsic relationship between art and love. Even when he was in pain, he still journied on.

A projection at the exhibition

Van Gogh’ s incredible creative gifts were never recognised in his life time. Despite the efforts of his brother Theo, he had very little to live on. He battled with ill health, which from the descriptions, sounds like epilepsy. He experienced intense mood swings, from exhilaration to deep depression, and he died tragically age 37.

He is such an inspiring figure, because he battled with darkness, yet appreciated the light. He felt frustrated, but found solace in the stars. He had nothing, but was ecstatic about the colours of a flower. He was belittled, but he appreciated any act of kindness. In the midst of his struggles with depression and sorrow, he noticed the exquisite beauty of his surroundings, and was always curious and attentive.

Another quotation of his is ‘ I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.’

In the midst of his many flaws, he experimented with form and vivid colour, and did something extraordinary – he demonstrated the ethereal dimension of ordinary days, in a way that now the world can never forget. He was a courageous pioneer, who followed his heart, even when no one else believed in him.

I think his example gives us courage to follow our dreams, even when they don’t make sense to anyone else. Jesus followed his purpose to demonstrate the love of God to the world, even though he faced opposition and sorrow. May we too walk in the light, and humbly seek to fulfil our calling, whatever that might be.

Gracious God, your world is immeasurably beautiful and varied. Forgive us when we are in too much of a rush to notice. Thankyou for artists and musicians and writers who enlarge our appreciation of our world. Lord Jesus, you remind us that nothing is impossible with God. Help us use our creative gifts and talents, even in our flawed humanity to somehow share love and inspire others. Holy spirit, take our weaknesses and brokeness, and somehow inspire us to live richer and more attentive and appreciative lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen

‘The silence between the notes’

It could have been the composer Debussy or Mozart that said that ‘music is the space between the notes’. This quotation often recurrs in my thoughts, on the midst of busy and pressured days, full of conversations, things to do, places to be.

Life seems a little bewildering just now, full of adjustments to the latest information and recommendations re the covid pandemic. We also are trying to come to terms with losses of so many kinds, during lockdown, in our society, in our life stories. And so our thoughts swirl with regrets, sadnesses, information and possibilities. Often we seem to speak fast to convey the vast amount going on in our heads.

And so this quotation really helps me, that the music can somehow be the space between the notes- what is of significance, can be the timing of the silence. I like the fact that the intervals in pieces of music are called ‘rests’. That makes perfect sense to me!

Especially as we move through this time of pandemic, there are many profound questions as to how we should live. And there is a movement towards less frenetic activity, more reflection and quiet appreciation. Often we discover meaning not just in the moment, but in the time to reflect afterwards. That is when significance deepens, and the experience can be processed and absorbed.

In music, literature and art, so much seems discordant and noisy, exploring extremes, rather than the exquisite tapestry of light and shade in tone and subtlety.

I love the words from psalm 55 verse 6: ‘ Oh that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.’

It would be such a blessing to have these moment of rest and reflection in every day, and in the rhythm of our week. When we live in a hurry, we might seem to get more done, but we lose part of ourselves. We need moments to breathe, to appreciate, to find space.

As we go into a new session of school and church, may we not go back to old ways of haste and hustle, a scramble to fit everything in. Instead, may we be more selective, asking God for His leading. May we have times to reflect and to pray, to receive the meaning and inspiration of experiences and encounters, and to savour them, and to let them shape our understanding and our being.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, we are told when You created the universe, that the seventh day was a day of rest, when You saw that what was done, was good. However we understand this, we know that times of rest need to be built into the fabric of our lives, times of quiet, of insight of appreciation. Lord Jesus, you often left your disciples and friends, to go to a quiet place to pray. Holy spirit teach us to ensure that in the regular rhythm of our lives, there are times to rest, to pray, to reflect and to be creative. May times of silence enrich and bless our souls, to deepen our understanding, and to strengthen and energise us for the the rest of life. Grant us that quiet wisdom, which illuminates all things, Amen.