It’s been a tough quarter. I know, I know…I put way too much expectation on myself, I don’t have to get straight A’s, being a perfectionist isn’t the way to go, blah blah blah. Whatev.
I’ve spent a lot of this quarter feeling overwhelmed: by my responsibilities, by the things I’m learning and trying to process, by the things God is showing me about myself and Himself, by the ways I’m growing into myself. And some other stuff.
Anyway, it was a beautiful, sunny, California autumn day and my class took a field trip to the Norton Simon museum. It was such a perfect exercise for me to float in and out of the different rooms, a little dry autumn leaf losing her color, and lose myself in Indian statues of Hindu deities, a pond dotted with lily pads, and Degas’ graceful ballerinas. The above painting, The Mulberry Tree by Van Gogh, was like a house with all its lights on in the middle of a dark street. I was drawn to it and stood for a long time, transfixed. Van Gogh painted it in the autumn of 1889 in Saint-Remy, in the last year of his life, when he was struggling with depression and, some suggest, madness.
I felt like the swirl of colors on the tree profoundly depicted those times when our inner worlds are an overwhelming swirl of change and loss and anticipation and anxiety. There was the sense that the painter was on the cusp of something but knew not yet what–whether it was good or bad remained to be seen. Of course, it is heartbreaking to know that only 8 months later Van Gogh took his own life–his autumn led to a winter of dying silence that he never emerged from. I felt afraid, looking at this painting, because sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my own melancholy and the deaths I experience–of dreams, or pride, of relationships.
But I felt hope, too. I remembered how last fall one of my professors often quoted someone (perhaps Richard Hays?) as saying that Christians can leave room for tragedy, because of the resurrection. Even in the midst of a “tough quarter” (which honestly does not do justice to the emotionally exhausting nature of this particular season for me) I don’t have to be afraid of loss or the fiery colors of dramatic change that hint toward the inevitable death of something, and soon.
Will I soon be as naked as the mulberry tree in winter? Who knows, but one does know that this is the cycle of life in nature and also in the soul. As surely as I will be stripped of precious treasures and stand shivering, perhaps feeling forsaken, I will surely be once again clothed with warm green light and crowned with lovingkindness like blossoms in my hair.