Bright Lights in the Big City
by Rachel Palekas
One of our classes this semester is a type of apologetics class, or as we’re calling it, “missional engagement.” The main goal of this class is to identify ways that we’ll be interacting with some of the hard questions the ‘secular world’ will be asking us. One of the ways we started to do this was by taking a trip to New York City to explore the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan, trying to find the Lord’s beauty in artists who probably don’t know him. We also looked for ways that art reflects our Creator who calls us to continue His work of creating.
One of my favorite paintings of all time is the incredibly famous painting Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. I never really knew why I loved it so much until I was reading Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life for class about how art and beauty are in our calling to care for creation. In it, Mako Fujimora describes why and how Van Gogh created that famous image: “Vincent painted this ‘superior and changed condition of existence’ [aka the church connecting the earth to the heavens] as already here--but not yet fully so. He developed a visual diction that serves as a bridge between our current condition and a future transformed” (Fujimora 76).
If you look at Starry Night, the piece holding the entire painting together is the church--smack dab in the middle, with the lights off (which implies the ‘not yet’ part of the Kingdom of God), reaching into the beauty of the stars and heavens. In John, as Jesus was being tried before he was crucified, he was very clear in saying that his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) and that is displayed so beautifully in Starry Night. I’ve always felt so drawn to this painting, mostly because of the swoops and sways of the stars reminding me of something so much bigger than myself. But getting to see it in person after learning about the background of Van Gogh (who decided not to be a pastor because he felt he could love people better through art than through the pulpit) and the way he intentionally designed this painting led me to be in awe not only of the painting, but of the Lord, who gives His children the gifts and abilities to create beauty to point back to His kingdom that already exists, but is not yet fully realized.