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Happily, I discovered one of many expressions of Vincent van Gogh’s angst shared in a letter with his brother Theo, his sole confidante:

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by only see a wisp of smoke through the chimney, and go along their way. Look here, now, what must be done? Must one tend the inner fire, have salt in oneself, wait patiently yet with how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down near it—maybe to stay? Let him who believes in God wait for the hour that will come sooner or later.”  Letter # 155 from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (1873 – 1890).

The great fire in our soul references the presence of the Sacred that van Gogh experienced in prayer and its extension in oils on canvases and other mediums. He knew the inner fire and the salt in oneself, both biblical images,that fueled his passion to explore the untried; but the impermanence of this state provoked impatience, and this letter seemed to have emanated from one of his dry spells. Still, van Gogh painted, subjects that caught his imagination, whether indoors or outdoors, at times, striking his passion into flame.

The oil-on-canvas, Plain Near Auvers (1890 – the year of his death) attracted my attention. Variants of greens, blues, yellows, and whites caught the dynamism of a peasant’s fields, with crows flitting among grasses in the foreground. The uncertainty of the sky escalates the drama: the Sacred surprises as in our lives. Note in the right-hand corner the addition of three red roses in the grasses.

Vincent van Gogh’s willingness to participate in the Creator’s plan, with broad brushstrokes and heavy pigments, challenges me to deepen my gift of writing in the time allotted me.  

Poet Mary Oliver speaks at the 2010 Women’s Conference in California.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

The concluding question of Mary Oliver’s short poem, “The Summer Day,” prompts another response. Viewing my life as one wild and precious deepens with the lessening of the denial of my terminal illness: one, in the sense of being unique; wild, in the sense of dreams for fresh learning; and precious, in the sense of God’s unconditional love for me.

Many significant teachers, past and present, have helped me to this self-knowledge, in union with their own participation in the Sacred. This new learning engages this summer day and sets it aglow, unlike any other day that I’ll ever have. Even the poem’s title, “The Summer Day” emphasizes the primacy of the present moment. Note Oliver’s use of the adjective, “The,” in place of “a”—It’s not just any old day. Each day bears its own fruit, with its deepening commitment. Despite still much to learn, I no longer dwell upon the length of days allotted me.

So, the challenge to the able-bodied and the chronically ill prickles under the skin: No day is to be wasted for the build-up of the Kingdom of God. Our world depends upon it.

Even in the face of daily shootings and consequent mayhem, Mary Oliver offers spirit-support through her poems, “The Summer Day,” being among them.

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