Starry Night

Could some non-religious paintings have value for meditation? Take a look at Van Gogh's Starry Night at Mark Harden's Artchive.

The stars are "ringed". Saints and angels are depicted as having a halo to indicate their holiness. These stars have halos, so could this suggest they are holy? Recall that before we understood astronomy, people thought the lights in the sky were gods. Later, this heavenly host would be the angels. So here perhaps we have a depiction of the power of this heavenly host. Cf. Luke 2:13.

Note the movement in the sky. God's power and action is not static. Grace is seen as a fluid flowing down to us in El Greco, as in the Baptism of Christ, and that fluid is in movement in the night sky, in the heavens above. The Holy Spirit is associated with wind, so we see God's action as a "wind" moving in the sky. Take a look at the Face of God, creating. Church Steeple

Finally, notice how the stars at night dwarf the human habitation below. Isn't this in fact true? We are so consumed by our petty lives that we fail to notice that heaven is far more important. However, the artist has made the village church the most central and noticeable building. Its steeple is pointing directly to the heavens, as if to signal that our attention should be above not below. He was to die in 13 months, so perhaps his mind was indeed on the things above. (A number of Van Gogh's works are available at Mark Harden's Artchive and the WebMuseum's Van Gogh page.)


Using your imagination to see what Van Gogh saw that night requires a stretch. He did not see things the way we normally do, but that too is part of the point of great art. It calls on us to see things differently, to discover more than we had seen or felt before. In this case, the image can reveal the mystical. Some might object saying he was mad but one person's madness or folly can be another's wisdom.


"For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." 1Cor. 1:19-25. NRSV.

Starry Night reveals some of the reality behind reality. A contemplative tries to sense that reality within by looking within; Mother Teresa sensed that other reality in the poor and dying. God's presence and action is "secret and hidden" because it is not readily visible, because it cannot be observed and measured scientifically, and yet it can be made visible by God. It can be perceived by those who seek it out.

"But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him' - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God's except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else's scrutiny. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. " 1Cor. 2:7-16. NRSV.
"Men in general judge more from appearances than from reality. All men have eyes, but few have the gift of penetration." -Machiavelli.

Images are displayed here for non-profit religious and educational purposes only. No other us is intended or permitted. The text is by the Rev. Roger J. Smith, unless attributed to someone else, and is presented "as is". ©1997, Roger J. Smith.

"The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved."

I am not an art critic or artist. I just invite others to think about the message presented by the work of art and then in meditation reflect on its application in your life. In addition, use your imagination. Put yourself into the scene and feel what the artist felt. A painting may have tremendous spiritual meaning for you whether or not the artist intended it, or the art critics would agree. If you find meaning, work with that meaning thanking God.

This web page is the responsibility of Rev. Roger J. Smith, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Comments can be sent to him by email. To see our many other pages click on the "index of all parish pages" below.

Art as a source of Christian Meditation
Awaken to Prayer
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