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From Beyond the Depths to the Canvas to You and Me

November 17, 2022

My parents dragged me there.

I was a bored, slightly angry grade school kid. We waited in a long line at the St. Louis Art Museum to see a touring exhibit of Van Gogh paintings all the way from Amsterdam.

Everything changed when I was suddenly captivated by what I saw on display. I wanted to go through again. Right away.

Vincent’s been a favorite of mine ever since.

What do you make of what Jim Rigby writes here? —


Van Gogh said, “I can very well do without God both in my life and in my painting, but I cannot, suffering as I am, do without something which is greater than I am, which is my life, the power to create.”

Van Gogh also said the way to know God is to love many things. So did Van Gogh believe in God or not?

From the two quotes above we might guess that Van Gogh was using the symbol “God” the same way he used sunflowers and starry nights- as visible expressions of an invisible depth he could feel shining invisibly and singing silently all around him.

I do not believe Van Gogh was trying to capture what he objectively saw so much as to share what he subjectively felt. I look at religion the same way. Scripture is more like jazz than an instruction manual.

When I read any of the world’s great scriptures, I approach them the same way I look at a Van Gogh painting. We do not need scripture to tell us what is scientifically true. We do not need scripture to replace our responsibility to make our own ethical decisions. It can, however, be helpful to suspend objectivity for a moment and take a pilgrimage into the intuitive depths of the human heart.

The ancient stories of scripture can give us a longer, deeper, wider context for living even as we throw out what no longer applies. Scripture does not tell us what to think or do so much as tune our hearts for the journey of every human heart through the cosmos.

As long as we take them symbolically the stories of scripture can help us feel the longer evolutionary unfolding that is taking place through us. Symbols can also help us become aware of the invisible thread that ties us to every other beating heart, to the fitful ocean and to Van Gogh’s swirling sky.

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