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Green Wheat Fields (1890), an oil-on-canvas rendering by the Dutch Vincent Van Gogh has inspired me, this month’s offering from my kitchen calendar; it is one of many wheat fields that Van Gogh painted during his short life, the later ones reflecting his revolutionary use of color, brushstrokes loaded with thick pigments, and the dynamic in-breaking of life into the ordinary. The viewer cannot not be involved.

Van Gogh’s lifelong obsession was to use his painting as a vehicle to unite the world of sense data, his spirituality, and his evolving art. To approach this monumental task, he relied upon the direction he received from his unconscious. So fierce was his output that people viewed him as mad. Abysmal self-care practices, depression, and drinking eventually led to psychiatric placements at St. Remy and at Auberge Ravoux where he continued painting through his open window.

But why paint numerous wheat fields, in all conditions—a whole series of them? you may ask, even two months before his death from the effects of an unsuccessful self-inflicted gunshot wound?

Life-long studies of scripture had opened Van Gogh to its psychic feeding. Through them, he grasped the metaphor of wheat as representing humanity’s cycles of life and death: a celebration of life and its diminishment, an example found in Jesus’s parable of The Sower (Mark 4:3-8).

I imagine Van Gogh muttering, “The next painting must work. I’m getting close.” But it never happened. Too painful to paint the critical canvas with its inspiring legacy for humanity, he chose to look elsewhere, in death. However, his legacy lives after him, even on kitchen calendars around the world.

Only the whir of the potter wheel licked the stained walls of the studio as an apron-clad artist cupped a mound of clay slip with wet hands. Next to the wheel laid scalpel-like knives, sponges of various sizes and textures, wires strung to handles, other cutters, twigs, and leaves. But the potter’s sensitive hands, sinewy and dripping wet, caught my attention: He seemed to know when to pause, slow the wheel, add more clay, etch designs upon the lip, indent patterns, and so much more. With others, I looked on, hushed by the emerging bowl taking shape on the wheel.

After the potter slip-wired the bowl from the wheel and set it aside to dry, he focused upon his students and smiled. “You can do this too. It just takes practice—That’s why I’m here.” That was years ago.

Then, as well as now, this experience mirrors Potter God’s ongoing intimacy in bringing forth new life, within limits of time and space. Like the hollow in the earthenware bowl, my body of eighty-six years has held a treasure—despite chronic disorders. Light always emerged and I did find my way, albeit with new direction and resolve.

At some future moment, Potter God will slip-wire my body from the wheel of life and set me free from my present diminishments. Until then, I wait and pray… and ask you to do the same. I’m grateful.

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