the lines on our faces

the lines on our faces

like rings within a tree;

lines on the trunks and rough bark.

Telling stories of storms. Growth.

Brokenness, where wounds were but now healed.

Silent marks telling a lifetime.

Weather-worn skin speaking without saying a word.

the lines on our faces

telling tales of complex life.


From suffering to joy– the road of compassion (book review of: Learning from Henri Nouwen & Vincent van Gogh)

From suffering to joy– the road of compassion

“Could it not be the case that if one loves something, one sees it better and more truly than if one did not love it?” van Gogh

Van Gogh was misunderstood as a crazy man who was also a creative artist. Psychologists have deemed him unstable. Henri Nouwen considered Van Gogh as an exemplar of compassion. Carol Berry, the author of Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent Van Gogh a Portrait of the Compassionate Life, had the privilege to take a course taught by Nouwen on van Gogh and his life of compassion. She shares the grace and compassion of Henri Nouwen and Vincent Van Gogh in her book.

Compassion means to suffer with. Van Gogh “wanted to have a clearer view of how art and religion both had the power to console. And he hoped to reveal how the creative experience can lead to a greater love for creation and each other.” Henri taught about van Gogh in a new light, and to be less disturbed by his failings and unconventional life. Through the course on compassion, Henri hoped his students to know their own failings and weaknesses in order to be able to comfort and console others better. “Out of the awareness of his own suffering and deep longing for love and comfort, Vincent sought to reach out and alleviate the suffering he witnessed in those around him.”
Henri reminds us that to suffer with another brings joy. “…this solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but … leads to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.” Vincent was a sensitive, melancholy soul many in our day could relate to. He was a failure in seminary, business; the church who supported his missionary work thought he was too extreme in his work and dropped him, his family rejected him, except his brother Theo. He lived with poor miners in Belgium and also lived in poverty. “…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” was one of his favorite Bible verses that he lived by. In the mining town in Belgium, he lived in darkness that he could bring light. While living in poverty, something stirred within him, thus began his career in sketching. His purpose in sketching encouraged him and strengthened his will to endure. Through difficult things in his life, his true purpose birthed. Though Vincent was lost many times, Henri encourages us to remember the full immersion into a calling. Vincent is a good example of the compassionate life because he struggled, like Abraham, Moses, even the Apostles. As he lived with Sien a destitute woman with a child, he had a great affection for her. He lived in empathy with the woman. If he could treat her with tenderness and esteem, she might change her perception of herself, as Henri shared about Vincent in his class. This is Christ-like, but extremely difficult as Vincent admitted to his brother Theo, which eventually failed.

Vincent was a sensitive soul who cared for others first without thinking or having a plan. This led him to loneliness and disappointment. After leaving Sien he focused on painting. Henri spoke of Vincent as being a seer, “one ‘who saw and wanted us to see with him….’ In the midst of darkness he saw light. In the midst of ugliness he saw beauty. In the midst of pain and suffering he saw the nobility of the human heart. He saw it, and he burned with desire to make others see it.'” Vincent painted the sower of seeds often in a pastoral setting. Henri points out the metaphor of the broken ground and human brokenness that is ready to receive seeds of wisdom and comfort. “Comfort does not take our suffering away, nor does it minimize the dread of being. Comfort does not even dispel our basic human loneliness. But comfort gives us the strength to confront together the real conditions of life, not as an unavoidable fate, but as … new understanding,” as Nouwen shared in his class. Vincent spent his time with the dejected and cared for them. He entered their lives literally as one like them– poor and dejected. He met these people where they were and portrayed them as such in his paintings, which also revealed his soul to us, that is as one suffering, but hopeful. The light in his paintings as the divine light that brings life and hope.

He moved to Paris for a time, but missed the images of the country. So he moved to Arles, where he painted over 300 images of the countryside and the people working in the midst of beauty. Vincent needed to commune with nature where he found the divine speaking to him. It was the book which revealed God to him. He painted and drew those in sorrow and hardship while in Belgium, but in Arles, he showed God’s love and beauty through nature with vibrant color and illuminating light– the sun a prominent feature in many of the paintings. Even though a person may have a hard life, God is there shining the light of mercy and grace upon his people. This time in Arles was a time of deep joy for Vincent.

But his stay was short-lived. He had a fellow artist Gauguin stay with him at the insistence of Theo. But they did not get along, which led to Vincent’s injury to his ear and subsequent headaches and seizures that would afflict him for the rest of his life. The town saw him as unstable and petitioned for him to leave. He took refuge at Saint Remy monastery nearby. Though a troubled, sensitive soul, Vincent continued to create beautiful, light-filled art. His continuation of being sorrowful yet always rejoicing was what kept him going and, of course, his art. The monastery was a psychiatric facility and his art and nature were the remedy as well as being a comfort to the other people suffering (from seizure and other psychiatric disorders) within the walls of the monastery. Vincent was a man who suffered from what we call clinical depression. This led to volatile relationships, but also a gentle compassionate heart toward others who suffered.

Within the pages of Carol Berry’s book about Vincent van Gogh and Henri Nouwen illuminating Vincent as a person of compassion, Carol helps us see Vincent’s deep compassion for those who suffered, a love for nature and a deep rich soul who saw the world as a joy although still in the throes of a fallen state. Many times the most creative are the most wounded and broken. Yet, a hope and a light shines through that others may not see in others or in the most difficult of circumstances. Vincent van Gogh certainly continues to speak through his art that shows human sorrow and joy in nature– a light that penetrates even the darkest most broken corners of the human person and the world.

Carol Berry’s book on Vincent van Gogh through the teaching of Henri Nouwen is a great introduction to who Vincent van Gogh was. It is also a wonderful illumination of Vincent’s purpose through his art. Vincent was a complicated man and an image bearer of God. Though he was broken, he has beautiful things to say through his paintings and sketches. God works through broken people to show us His love and mercy, and certainly His compassion. A beautiful book.


Denial of self, the cross proclaims

denial of the old self, the self wanting to transgress

But in this age, denial of self a sin.

Self actualization, self indulgence, self affirmation;

focus on the self is to be lauded.


But to indulge in worship of idols

leads toward self worship and losing the way.

A worship of creatures, a denial of Creator.


“Who am I?” we ask. Only biology and impulse and mind?

To escape the deadness within; to feel anything other than the dread of existence.

This is the aim.


But we find ourselves in a loop of seeking happiness that never fulfills.

Denying the old self is the way toward becoming human.

Aiming toward the good, the true; the beautiful.

This brings forth the self, what it means to truly be human.

The Incarnate One, the example,

who we are aiming and longing for in all our idol worship.


In our dread of existence, we worship:

idols, self, God.

Our choice brings a road of suffering;

only one road leads out of that suffering

the rood which does not deny suffering, but self–

leading toward kingdom come and resurrection.

Finding who we truly are, affirmed.

fear and trembling

“he who is in anguish will find repose, only the one who descends to the underworld will rescue the beloved, only he who draws the knife gets Isaac” Kierkegaard


The dread; the leap

what is our existence?

But to suffer with an end of rescue,

what is lost,




“Go– what is dreaded and a fearful leap will bring you joy.”

“Do what he tells you..” Prepare the Passover.

“Do not be afraid; I am always with you.”

Faith: what a dreadful, fearful thing to follow.

Fear destroying faith.


Descending into depths, allowing pain, not covering it…


Descend to ascend.




I don’t believe in an upstairs downstairs understanding of heaven.

More like a marriage that will one day be.

A renewing of all things material and spiritual– the two realities merging


Christ, the incarnate reality of what is to come.


Love, beautiful without pain.

Death, the vanquished enemy.


Joy like the sun

brightening mood, like innocent love

that lifts the heart.


But it is dark.

Joy is hidden beneath layers of shame.

Shame dimming all vision to see

Music lifts, fine arts, a blue sky

but a bright sun is missing

that joy and levity

of heart making footsteps light and free.

feeling forsaken, deserted, abandoned


“I will always be with you.”



The sun behind the clouds; night perpetual. Winter…



Mercy Sunday

The tomb empty,

Christ visited those


repairing twisted, broken hearts.

Wounds in hands, side


presenting the new body

by his wounds we are healed.


His shalom

burns joy within broken image

making whole

by body, blood, mercy


Permission to enter the

kingdom by his side

through the cross

to newness of life

bodily resurrected

in mercy and grace

to see his face

shine upon our countenance.


Yet, my heart still aches.