Preparing for Worship – John Kelly.
Astronomers have cross-referenced its abstract, celestial patterns against cold, hard data. Psychologists have plumbed the depths of its ethereal swirls and probed its electric hues for deeper insight and meaning. Even now — over 130 years after its completion — soccer moms and art snobs alike pace MoMA’s corridors in NYC, set on catching a glimpse of it firsthand. All this considered, calling van Gogh’s The Starry Night a “big deal” feels understated — especially considering other honorifics thrown its direction, like “masterpiece” and “opus.”
When gathering pieces to send to his brother, then, why did van Gogh place the piece in the “not worth the price of postage” pile? Why did van Gogh see the now-iconic work as a “failure”?
Perhaps — and this is just an imaginative guess — van Gogh found the painting too painful a reminder. Besides his uncertainty about its composition style or color scheme, the thought of sharing such a tender memory had to have intimidated van Gogh. And understandably so!
If I happened to find any sort of artistic inspiration or solace from spending a year at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum — soaking in each starry night through the bars that secured my bedroom window — I doubt I’d be very eager to pass around and share what came of it either. I would shudder, like I imagine van Gogh might have, at the thought of answering, “Where did you come across such a stunning view?!”
But the more I’ve chewed on van Gogh’s experience and hesitation — his afflictions and legacy — I’ve settled that this kind of uncomfortable, vulnerable sharing represents the way of Jesus. As we prepare to worship God together this morning, I want us to consider van Gogh as a type of Christ. As someone whose deepest pains and loneliest nights ultimately paved paths countless others still travel today. Toward a fuller appreciation of beauty and creation; of humanity and ourselves; even of God Godself.
As we take our first steps into the last week of Lent — into a week where we remember Christ’s journey toward death — may the Spirit grace us to see our own afflictions and pains not as inhibitors of God’s work in the world, but, rather, as the means by which such work is completed. As we enter into worship together, more than a prescription or challenge, I hope this thought serves as an invitation to surrender our hesitations and shames.
God will make good sense of it all, in time. We just have to keep our eyes peeled for inspiration — even through the barred windows of our lives — in the meantime.