I remember meeting Vincent Van Gogh in person for the first time.
When I think of all the things which could have circumvented our meeting I thank God for the enormous effort put forth by Vincent and so many helpers to ensure our meeting.
Hoping his canvases would enlighten his viewers, Vincent endured a hard life of passionate work expressing his epiphanies only to be misunderstood and passed over. Faithfully he produced painting after painting. A few people who caught his passion were kind enough to take care of his paintings and hang them in places where others might pause to discover the ineffable.
L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise (The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise)
by Vincent Van Gogh
Oil on canvas, 94 x 74 cm (37 x 29 1/8 in);
Musee d’Orsay, Paris
World events kept churning around the paintings, often threatening to destroy them. We will never know the full story of how they survived.
Vincent could never have guessed how we would meet, as I would come from a corner of a continent then known for cowboys on the other side of the globe and, unimaginably, would fly for hours to finally alight upon his continent, drive a vehicle without horses and walk to a building in Paris he knew as tennis courts.
But, there, in 1979, I walked into the Jeu de Paume where he and many of his contemporaries resided at the time. I was looking for him in the crowd and remember turning the corner almost colliding with Vincent. I stood back in surprise as he waited for me to acknowledge him.
I nodded, “Yes. Yes, I agree.” We did not need words. We knew what each other felt and contemplated. I was astounded to be in kindred spirit with someone I admired so much, to be affirmed by this faithful hero.
Thirty-three years later I still resonated from our conversation and wrote a poem about it as follows.
Meeting the Light
Upon the canvas hanging here
At this moment the moment you
Communed with God so long ago,
Illuminates and trims my lamp;
I think you were not thanked enough
When, cloistered with your brush,
You lay upon the altar
Gladly suffering the vision
Beaming down on mind and soul
And pushed the yellow, white
And blue with green in ridges,
Oily wet arrangement,
Holding forth for memory
That I may taste so far away
The revelation of that day.
Yet, canvas, stone, or pencil,
Pixel, smudge or pot
Sits a sign upon the Way,
Prophetic testament of Sight
And I know no object
Sits so long that it will not
Be said again to tell the glory
When we see it from
The other side.
The artists in our midst are following variations of Vincent’s example. Most of all we want to warm the souls who will pause long enough to catch the revelation of God in our offerings.
Each work carries a very real part of us, of our witness to God’s being. We are so thankful for those who take care of us now, so that we can create these works, and through the years, so that people we can not imagine will receive our witness.
This is the first of a series of posts relating spirituality and the arts.
Mark Turner is an artist and writer active in St. Paul’s Center for the Performing and Visual Arts. He and his wife, Donna Turner, direct the arts organization Horizon Gate. Mark’s poetry and works of fiction are available online.