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 power of the movies!

Downton Abbey!

Today I went back to the cinema! I hadn’t been for such a long time, and I had forgotten how much I missed it. When the world is bleak, a little healthy escapism can bring delight.

I saw ‘Downton Abbey: a new era’ which was a good story well told. The sets were elegant, the characters so charmingly familiar, and it felt quite endearing. Some of the dialogue might have been a little chunky, but it was sought to examine the theme of endings and beginnings, and was definitely a ‘feel good movie’. And Maggie Smith, was as usual, excellent!

It is a timely reminder of the power of film, story, music and dance to stimulate thought, to inspire the imagination and to feed the soul. During the pandemic, we have been more limited in our opportunities to enjoy art and drama and music. It is liberating to be able to begin to engage just a little once more, and hopefully to encourage all involved.

I remember the words from Philippians 4:8′ fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable, right and pure, lovely and admirable. Think of things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’

It is good to make space in life for things that inspire us, a wonderful song, a film that we enjoy, a book that opens our minds. There is so much that is good and enjoyable in the world- it is good to choose to appreciate and savour it.

Gracious God, there is so much which troubles us in the world just now. Help us to take time to escape when we need to, to something which can make us smile or which we can enjoy. Lord Jesus, you shared in meals with your friends, you went to weddings. Remind us that it is ok to enjoy things. Holy spirit, thank you for creativity in film, word and music. Inspire us, and replenish our spirits though the artistry of others, and though this heal and strengthen our souls, Amen

A vision of harmony!

Patterns of light.

I have been so blessed to have had some time out with family in a sunny place. I realise how very much I have missed opportunities just to rest and be, in a warm climate.

I have especially enjoyed the light here, the amazing variety of colours in the sunsets, and last night the moon reflecting its silver glow across the expanse of the ocean. The bright luminous path in the sea in the starry night was wondrous.

(not my picture, but this was the idea!)

The ripples of light in the water, as I have been swimming, have also been mesmerising. I have felt harmonious with the water and the air, as new patterns and ripples appear in a pool, or you become one with the rhythms of the waves in the sea.

The wonder of these experiences have been so good for my soul. For a short while I have put to one side images of conflict, poverty and distress, and I feel at peace with nature, and the Creator of all things. It has reminded me of my desire to be in harmony with God, to be at one with Christ, to just rest in God’s love.

I used to think that this was selfish, but now I understand that these moments of connection refresh my soul, for the days ahead. Finding time to refuel in the pandemic was strangely difficult, because although there was more time, at times I had to fight a sense of claustrophobia and sadness. I think for many people, the pandemic left us all more isolated, and not able to process our grief in community. So being able to travel has reminded me of that sense of freedom and space and connection.

Ultimately, one of the most beautiful Bible passages about harmony is in Revelation 22:1-3

‘The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.’

I love John’s vision of the future, where people are with God, full of praise and worship. It seems no surprise that there is water, clear as crystal, at the centre of the city, bringing healing and beauty and life to all, for the leaves of the trees are to bringing healing to the nations. That spiritual refreshment offers possibilities of transformation for all. Vision such as this brings us strength and hope for the journey ahead.

Gracious God, our Creator, You have created a world of intricate patterns of light and shade, and of jaw dropping moments of revelation and connection. We worship You, grateful for possibilities of harmony, when the lion and the lamb lie down together. Lord Jesus, in You all things are held together, as the forgiveness You offer through the cross, brings an invitation to reconciliation for all. There are times in this life when pride, grief and violence seem overwhelming. But when we look to You, you remind us of the truth of who You are, and we are reassured and find peace. Through your holy spirit, inspire us to work towards healing and harmony even amongst the brokenness, and grant us a clarity of vision to energise us each day, Amen.

God desires restoration for our souls.

Luskentyre beach, Outer Hebrides.

After dark times of trauma, grief and pandemic stresses and worries, we might all be forgiven if our mood is a little uneven. It is going to take a long time, maybe even generations for there to be healing or recovery for those who have experienced some of the bleak and tragic consequences of the impact of coronovirus.

When we feel overwhelmed or sad, many things help, the power of prayer, a listening ear, a promise kept, a thoughtful message, the paw proffered by a pet. God uses so many ways to lift up our souls, and to remind us we are loved.

One of the things I am learning to appreciate more and more is the stunning nature of Scottish countryside, especially the western islands. There are so many epic landscapes, towering cliffs, colourful machairs, dramatic coastlines, exquisite beaches, and an amazing variety of birds and creatures. Even in the drizzle, these have the power to speak to our soul of big emotions, of wilderness and tragedy and solace and inspiration. The stories from each community visited are so moving.

I am reading from the Passion translation of the bible just now, and in psalm 148 verse 1 it says:

‘hallelujah! Praise the Lord.  Let the skies be filled with praise, and the highest heavens with shouts of glory.’

Just connecting with Creation, can remind us of the glory and majesty of God, so that just for a while, our hurts and wounds can seem smaller. Just being able to be still enough to give thanks and to worship, reorientates us, and can bring hope and restoration to our souls. Whether it is the shrill call of a bird, changing light through the clouds, or the rhythm of the waves- may we be lost in wonder, awe and praise.  If we have opportunity in this summer period, may we intentionally spend time in some of our glorious landscapes, and to find God, and in Him, refreshment and hope.

Gracious God, at times our hearts are bruised by worry and grief- our cares are heavy, and often beyond words. Please speak to us that Word in season that we need to hear. Creator of all, as we experience the grandeur of your creation, may tears of appreciation run down our faces, as we bow down before You in worship and thanksgiving. Lord Jesus, help us to experience your Love in new ways, and find a broader perspective on our troubles. Holy spirit, in Your creation, may we find restoration for our souls, and your healing grace and peace, Amen.