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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.  

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper (2001), an historical novel by Harriet Scott Chessman, ushers us into the poignant world of the Cassatts: Mary (1844–1926), the Impressionist painter and printmaker and Lydia, her older sister ill with Bright’s disease. Within the author’s writerly process, marked by stillness and a deep sense of the feminine, emerges the central image of attentive waiting: Mary, for the nudge from her unconscious for her next portrait; Lydia, for the significance of her simple life to surface from the ravages of her terminal disease.

It is through Lydia’s voice, spoken and imaginal, between 1878 and 1881, that we follow the artistic rendering of five portraits for which she poses for Mary’s brushstrokes, nuancing her substance in tingling oils: a contemplative woman dressed in floral pinks reading, embroidering, crocheting, smiling over her tea cup, and driving their carriage. The insertion of glossy plates further enhances this creative process.

From the sisters’ shared stillness, though, comes the quickening, the ultimate spark of meaning coloring their imaginations and deepening their unique gifts: the extroverted Mary and her vigorous engagement with the nineteenth-century art world in Paris, France; and the introverted Lydia and her touching life review with its acceptance of mortality.

Beneath the painterly words of this imaginative story exudes the numinous for those still enough to glean its beauty. We are refreshed.

 

 

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