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This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

So proclaims the Psalmist in verse, 118:24

Of special importance is the day, the last one in January and time to change the wall calendar in my kitchen.

This year, the print of Van Gogh’s 1890 Houses at Auvers graces February and mirrors the world of Auvers, northwest of Paris, with its thatched and tiled roofs and summer gardens. Broad strokes of pigment suggest his elusive emotional stability.

But obsessed to co-create with his Creator, his tormented psyche pushed him beyond exhaustion, beyond the minutes in any hour, and toward eventual suicide in July, two months later.

Perhaps an extreme use of time, but one from which Van Gogh’s six hundred or more oil paintings emerged and which still inspire viewers around the world. I have to think he glimpsed the whirlwind of colors while in his mystic fury, simultaneously filled with bliss.

So, what are we doing with this new day, no matter how quickly the seconds collapse into mill-seconds like mixing cups of flour into the liquid ingredients?

Only when very young and in the convent did I learn the significance of the Psalmist’s wisdom to rejoice in each day, a gift. And now, even more…

Classics in whatever genre—words, notes, pigment, marble, metal—require the artist to dig for inspiration into his/her psyche, realm of the Sacred. Facilitating the process is a servant heart, a willingness to change direction, and a letting go of the work—it never being finished. Indeed, the artist is co-creating with the Creator of the universe and learning a new way of being-inside-and-outside of the world.  Fortunately for us, there have always been such individuals who embraced this sacrifice of arduous becoming.

Aaron Copland is one of these artists whose music invariably opens me to the Beautiful where interludes of stillness speak. Appalachian Spring (1944), commissioned for the dancer Martha Graham and company and interwoven between the 1848 tune, Shaker Gifts, evokes such gentle hushes. Its war-weary audiences flocked to performances, their psyches uplifted by this new vision-in-sound that was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music. 

War-weary myself this afternoon, I turned away from the news and listened to Appalachian Spring, scored for a chamber orchestra of thirteen instruments; its barely audible opening notes excised my scrambled psyche of turmoil and pried open my imagination. Immediately, I was in another world, deeply soothed, until twenty-five minutes later, again muted notes brought closure to the piece, and with it, an aching within me.

But the memory remains…

Lifelong inspiration of the canvas, Starry Night (1889) painted by the Dutch Post-Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh, finally nudged my exploration of his genius. Something about his more-than-alive colors and rough sweeping brushstrokes enliven ordinary subjects with an inner brilliance that shocks—as if channeling something of the Sacred’s energy. Simplicity, in its purest form, crowns his canvases, eight hundred of them, many produced during the last decade of his short life.

However the beauty and order he produced on his canvases fly in the face of his thirty-seven years of rejections: from his parents from birth, from three women to whom he proposed, from employers and church authorities, from Impressionistic artists, and the public’s distaste for his paintings. The Red Vineyard was the only painting that Van Gogh sold.

Despite coming from an upper middle class background, he lived and worked as a peasant. Chronic anger besieged van Gogh’s entire life, manifesting in gloominess, sadness, and melancholy, augmented by slovenliness in his person and the room he lived in. People were uneasy around him.

Only his brother Theo supported him emotionally and financially. He, alone, knew of his fluency in four languages, his voracious reading and intelligence, his gentle soul as gleaned from their shared letters.

Yet, Vincent van Gogh’s oils scintillate with a life of their own. One commentator saw Starry Night, the sweeping view of Saint-Remy-de-Provence from the barred window of his asylum just before sunrise, as the culmination of his life’s work. In his art, alone, did van Gogh find his God.

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