For Lent this year I’m doing a new thing: the devotional, Vincent Van Gogh and the Beauty of Lent. I feel so worn down by the state of the world, by constant flux and big changes at my church, by my car being in the shop for over a month after a small fender-bender, that I couldn’t bear to give anything up for Lent. Instead, I’m adding a practice that involves looking at light and color and the gorgeous art of Van Gogh.
One of the most intriguing questions so far is:
If you were to depict the idea that the Holy Spirit moves through both Scripture and the arts, how would you compose the picture? To what page would the Bible be opened? And what work of art would you place beside it?
The Van Gogh painting that week was Still Life with Bible (above). The Van Gogh family Bible is open to Isaiah 53, which talks about salvation coming through a suffering servant. The book near the Bible (Vincent’s own copy of Emile Zola’s Joie de Vivre) is about a woman who was orphaned and undergoes adversity and harm–a modern-day suffering servant. While some see this painting as Van Gogh contrasting the heavy religion of his father with his own faith. Others (including the devotional writers) as Van Gogh pointing out two strains of the same idea: the raising up of a suffering servant.
This activity captured my imagination. Here are a couple of pairings of artwork and the Bible passage I’ve thought of (note, these will not be beautiful, and probably not even visually interesting, I am a word person, not a visual artist).
I’d pair Colossians 2:6 with Fire Keeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley. The main character, Daunis, is the most striking fictional practitioner of the spiritual discipline of gratitude I’ve ever read. She has a Native American father and a white mother, and while she grapples with her sense of belonging in both communities, she embraces and lives out the Anishinaabe spirituality she has learned. She is grounded by her practices and she overflows with gratitude, even while facing traumatic events.
Colossians 2:7 NLT
Let your roots grow down into [Christ Jesus, your Lord], and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
In February, my father turned 80. After his cancer diagnosis last year, right as they were moving and downsizing from their house of 20 years, and the subsequent removal of his bladder, we would’ve done anything he wanted for his birthday — including watching a 2-hour-38 minute-long serious movie. So he finally got us to watch the 2012 film of Les Miserables. As the last gorgeous strains of the music played, he said, “That film sums up my theology.” In the line: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Yes. It is beautiful theology. And the songs are still running through my head, over two weeks later.
I’ve paired it here with 1 John 4:12, 16-17:
No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us…. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.
I’m thinking about this pairing, but I don’t have anything solid yet.
Last month, I asked God to strengthen my hope muscle. It had gone flabby due to disuse. He’s done it by throwing article after article, meme after meme, poem after poem, photo after photo at me, all about hope. It’s starting to work.
Your turn. Are there any Bible verses and art expressions you’d pair as expressing the same spirit? Do you have something to share that could strengthen my hope muscle?