So I just watched the movie Loving Vincent and salty teardrops are still dripping down my face as I write this. If you haven’t seen it, make some time for yourself to curl up and dwell in a story of art, mystery, emotion and the radical importance of a life. Human creativity and human passion and human gentleness are hidden realities that, when they do find the opportunity to reveal themselves, stun and move us to our core. That is the human story: our ability to create and live in a world that is so harsh and cold. We are not alone in our loneliness and that is a beautiful thing. Just some thoughts as I reflect on Van Gogh’s lonely, poetic, sorrow-filled life.
Watching this movie had me thinking about the human need: 1) to create in some way/shape/form and 2) to have real connection with one another as well as the landscapes in which we live, whatever those landscapes might be.
In Martin Buber’s book I and Thou, he distinguishes between the I-It relation and the I-You relation. So much of our society/culture/world is shaped by the I-It relation. Our encounters with the Other are increasingly becoming I-It relations. I encounter the Other and immediately I categorize the Other so I can understand them, making the Other part of my Same, making the Other an It.
Well, says Buber, that is not life. We live in a world of I-It but we are not fully human this way. The I-You relation is divinity, it is reality, it is life. That holy space where I am not trying to understand the Other in any way—a relation of an initial, ancient condition between two beings where we are just being, appreciating and recognizing the fully human. I come out of myself and the Other comes out of themselves and we meet in the middle. This is called reciprocity. We can engage in reciprocity with nature too, as Buber does in an example with a tree:
I contemplate a tree.
I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the silver blue ground.
I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air—and the growing itself in its darkness.
If will and grace are joined, that as I contemplate the tree I am drawn into a relation, and the tree ceases to be an It. The power of exclusivity has seized me.
Whatever belongs to the tree is included: its form and its mechanics, its colors and its chemistry, its conversation with the elements and its conversation with the stars—all this in its eternity.
What I encounter is neither the soul of a tree nor a dryad, but the tree itself.
The power of exclusivity draws us out of ourselves and into relation, into life.
Going along beautifully with these thoughts and Vincent Van Gogh, I listened to a stunning podcast the other day when I went running. It was an episode of Krista Tippett’s On Being where she interviewed John O’Donohue. He talks about beauty in a way that made me feel alive inside again.
JOHN O’DONOHUE: Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness, like. Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.
O’Donohue continued: When I think of the word “beauty,” some of the faces of those that I love come into my mind. When I think of beauty, I also think of beautiful landscapes that I know. Then I think of acts of such lovely kindness that have been done to me by people that cared for me in bleak, unsheltered times or when I needed to be loved and minded. I also think of those unknown people who are the real heroes for me, who you never hear about, who hold out on lines, on frontiers of awful want and awful situations and manage, somehow, to go beyond the given impoverishments and offer gifts of possibility and imagination and seeing.
I think Van Gogh, and all of us who have suffered/are suffering now, can take this poem to heart.
MR. O’DONOHUE: This is a poem I wrote several years ago, and it’s called “Beannacht,” which is the Gaelic word for “blessing.”
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets in to you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green,
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
That’s all for now 🙂 I hope some of those words made you happy like they make me happy. Sometimes we just need some art and lovely thoughts to get us through the craziness of life.