I had been waiting for this night for months. My wife and I left Griffin early to drive to Atlanta for the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit. The show was far from perfect — I wish it had been about twice as long and that higher quality reproductions of his paintings had been displayed. However, there was something incredible and unique about the feeling of being immersed inside of Van Gogh’s vision and art — to have it literally swirling and dancing around you is something that I will never forget.
My fascination with Van Gogh began in college. While I was aware of the most famous works — The Starry Night, Cafe Terrace at Night, Wheatfield with Crows — it was his spiritual journey that truly captured my imagination.
Before becoming a painter, Van Gogh desired to work for the church — as a pastor, teacher, or later as a missionary. After failing to secure the needed education to pastor, struggling as a lay minister, and being denied an official appointment, he was fired as a missionary for arguably being too Christlike. He gave away his food to the hungry, used his meager salary to buy Bibles for the poor miners, and used his linens to make bandages after a mining accident left many of his community wounded and without proper medical supplies.
Van Gogh saw God as the ultimate artist. In a letter to his young artist-friend, Emile Bernard, he wrote of Christ, “He lived serenely, as a greater artist than all other artists, despising marble and clay as well as color, working in living flesh. That is to say, this matchless artist, hardly to be conceived of by the obtuse instrument of our modern, nervous, stupified brains, made neither statues nor pictures nor books; he loudly proclaimed that he made ... living men, immortals.”
What if we took a page from Van Gogh’s book? If we could commit ourselves to the search for God’s handiwork in the “hopelessly ordinary” this summer, we might not need to fixate on a perceived need to get to exotic places or to do exciting things.
My social media feed is already exploding with pictures of friends’ summer vacations and alluring travel excursions. Wouldn’t it be tragic if, in our pursuit of the extraordinary, we were missing the glorious exhibition of God’s handiwork all around us? The waitress at the restaurant, the gas station attendant, the park ranger on duty, the mother with her three screaming children — each one has the capacity to reveal to us something of the creative heart of God.
Reflecting on Van Gogh’s life, pastor and art historian, Cliff Edwards writes, “Rather than joining the many artists who saw themselves as a kind of high priesthood above the common lot, Vincent repeated in his letters that loving, marrying, and having children took precedence over painting pictures. Vincent affirmed to the end of his life that his paintings belonged below the tasks of workers and peasants who lived in families and cared for the greatest of artistic creations, their children.”
May we have eyes to see the true masterpieces among us.
Steven Norris is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Griffin.