Glimpses of God Outside the Temple

I don’t usually cry in museums. In fact, for a long time I never went to museums. All that changed when I saw my first real Van Gogh. It was "Fields and Blue Sky" that slayed me with its stormy violet sky, pale green and gold fields, and splash of red in the foreground. I wanted to prostrate myself before the power of that painting. It was raw worship. A holy suspension. Is this what Moses felt when the cloud of Yahweh descended on the Tent of Meeting? For those moments I felt like I knew the God of the Tent—the one not confined to temples or official places of worship, but the God who walks in our everyday.

Much of the religious art in the United States has little to do with the wild, storm-swept Spirit of God that moves across the face of the deep saying "Let there beà." But artists who keep fidelity with their art will go to great lengths to live out of God’s intrinsic freedom. Three artists of the past 150 years who demonstrated that fidelity in their creations are Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Andy Warhol. Van Gogh died in obscurity, wishing to be famous. O’Keeffe died famous, wishing she had lived undisturbed. Warhol lived and died flamboyantly, but with a secret life about which few knew.

Post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh’s whole life was consumed by his Christian faith and how to sanctify the secular. He was an artist-priest. "I prefer painting people’s eyes rather than cathedrals," he said, "for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral—a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker."

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