So I was lying in bed on Wednesday night reading a little book about Vincent van Gogh and staring at a plate of this painting, from my bedroom to Vincent’s bedroom in Arles, back and forth, back and forth. If wondered if Vincent had painted our bedroom would it have looked as peaceful? Could he have made my boxers look relaxing and Provencal?
I know lots of us feel a special bond to certain people and I guess that I feel a bond to Vincent. I know lots of people do, for different reasons.
‘He…had tried tried to be picture dealer, school-master, bookseller, and evangelist, and had suffered much doubt that he was good for anything at all. To his puritan family, who believed in the close connection of work and morality, he seemed an idler and a non-conforming eccentric. Actually he was a man with a calling, but still uncertain of what that calling was.’
Vincent van Gogh, Fontana Pocker Library of Great Art.
Maybe the real hero in his story however is his brother Theo who faithfully supports his non-conforming eccentric brother through thick and thin. The fame for Theo should be as great as that for Vincent.
Anyway, so I was reading this all and thinking about it on Wednesday night.
Then yesterday afternoon H___ and I found ourselves at the home of a lovely couple down in Annalong, the sun glimmering out on the Irish Sea and black guillemots fumbling about the harbour walls like misplaced penguins.
They offered us a cup of tea, and down came four china cups from the cupboard.One of them had them was printed with Vincent’s bedroom in Arles, which the lady poured tea into. Then she passed that china cup to me.
What are the chances of that?
The Plough is above the house tonight,
the most persistant ? hanging high in the night sky.
The question mark just hangs there prodding and poking me with doubts.
Is there nothing but a cold, dark expanse that we live into and try to make the best of and struggle through
or is there more to it,
is there really a maker and creator,
a redeemer and some big story that creation lives into and for?
Then I come back in because I feel scared.
I feel small and alone in the cosmos and if there is no God and no redemption, if we’re just randomly assembled chemical reactions then despair descends into my body and hangs me low.
Some claim that thought spurs them to make the most of every minute and find comfort in the dark matter, but it scares the shit out of me. When I became a Christian as a teenager it felt like I came because I was scared of going to hell. Now at the age of 34 it sometimes feels like I’m a Christian because I’m scared shitless of what it means if there is no God.
And even though those stars in The Plough are light years away in a cold cosmos they seem closer and more real than God, Jesus or The Holy Spirit are presently. They stars of The Plough might be distance but they seem real and weighty whereas God seems like ether and mist that floats around the head.
Except I know that when tragedy strikes I’ll be crying out to God for help because I need to believe in miracles and hope, that there is more to life than death and chaos, that pain has meaning and that I won’t always feel so broken and hopeless.
So this night is a lonely night, but if ever there is a night to be lonely and doubt, to feel scared and alone it is tonight.
Tearing pictures out of an old Vincent van Gogh diary I noticed The Plough in one night scene and it made me feel not alone, there an understanding that we looked into the same night sky and saw the same thing.
And now that I think about it,with the full moon beaming through the living room window did Jesus look up at The Plough in Gethsemane, lonely in a way that is beyond understanding but at the same time in way we can understand?
For although I often have my frustrations and doubts, although I can’t make sense of great Biblical truths that theologians can make sense of I can make sense of a man lonely and doubting, alone and afraid and feeling let down by his friends. And the truth(which I believe) that this man is also God just about keeps me hanging in there despite the doubts and lack of faith.
Thursday night was so mild that I was able to sit outside and look up at the night sky from my backyard. Directly above was the distinctive little star formation that looks like a ‘W’. For years I have noticed the ‘W’ but never asked for its proper name.
Until this morning that is.
The beautiful ‘W’ in the sky is called Cassiopeia (after a beautiful but vain queen in Greek mythology).
The star at the bottom of the 2nd V in the W shape is over 500 times brighter than the sun and 230 light year away.
If we had entered a rocket that could travel at the speed of light 230 years ago (the time William Pitt the Younger was entering Parliament) we would be only reaching the star now.