One of the great things about DC is the art galleries: great exhibits and rich permanent collections offer the opportunity to be renewed, to be challenged, to refresh your vision of this world. Just now, there is an exhibit at the Phillips of the works of Van Gogh. It centers around the theme of repetition. Apparently, Van Gogh liked to paint several different versions of his images; three or four or five canvases, each one different in color or texture or composition, each evoking a different response.
The picture above, for example, is the first version of two. It’s painted quickly, probably in situ, focusing on the amazing rich gold of the light streaming through the autumn leaves. It reflects in the beautiful puddles on the path, which seems illumined from within. You can barely see some of the people; they’re added as an afterthought.
In the version on the left, which came later, Van Gogh has transformed the gold into lemon. The people are more carefully drawn, and the composition has been cleaned up a bit. The brushwork is smoother, and the scene feels more refined. In the act of repetition, Van Gogh discovered new ways to see.
Those images got me thinking about the ways we worship, for our liturgy is that kind of repetition: not a static reiteration of the same thing each week, but a repetition that allows us to move deeper. Using the same structure (trees/road/ building, Scripture/prayers/Communion), we vary the elements just enough to help us to grow. The challenge is to lean in, lean deeper, until our full humanity is engaged each time, bringing all that we are into a life-giving encounter with the living God. Like the double helix of our DNA, we spiral deeper, our soul dancing with God’s, into the heart of the Trinity.
Let me show you one more, just for fun. These are three images of Van Gogh’s friend Madame Roulin, wife of the local postman. What do you notice in each one of them? What kind of person does she appear to be in each picture? How does Van Gogh transform your understanding? How does God?