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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.

 

For centuries, Jesus of the Gospels has seized the religious imaginations of artists, subsequently rendering likenesses in oils, frescoes, wood, stone, and music. It’s as if the enfleshment of Jesus continues apace with his people’s historical and cultural development. His message of forgiveness and healing is still relevant, however communicated.

For decades, the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), a new art form created by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, has inspired me. Their take on Jesus, though, proved to be controversial: a radical revolutionary fighting against the establishment and subsequently crucified—with no resurrection, in its aftermath. And Judas Iscariot presses Jesus to change his ways, offensive to the Jewish leaders, rather than go through with his betrayal. Because no producer would touch this work, the rock opera was first recorded in an album.

Yet, the album, replete with slang, with references to conflicted movements straddling the 1970s, caught fire. Church groups began staging their own productions of Jesus Christ Superstar, and 1971 saw its production on Broadway. The rest is history.

Jesus would have his way and did.

Before composing this blog, I listened to the 1973 movie version, filmed in Israel and other Middle Eastern settings. I likened Rice and Weber’s Jesus, played by Ted Neeley, to a single frame of a kaleidoscope, its pieces of browns, blacks, and yellows clicked into ordinariness; nothing special on the surface, but within, a world alive with lights. This Jesus complements others in my imagination, especially as healer and lover.

The experience enriched my Holy Week observance.

 

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