Recently, I have been drawn to the paintings of Paul Gauguin. This might seem unexpected in light of his life story that features desertion of his family and the ugly episode the night Van Gogh dislocated his ear lobe. Let’s just say it is easy to judge him harshly because of these stories.
Then I always felt there was a certain air about his paintings of naked girls in exotic island backdrops that seemed sexually charged and voyeuristic. My fear of the unknown and lack of understanding caused me to think I might be led astray just by looking at these scenes and so I would quickly walk through the gallery where his painting called “Fatata te Miti” or “By the Sea” hangs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I would turn away from his lost paradise in favor of Van Gogh’s golden fields and hurried brush strokes and shake my head in distain for whom ever it was that decided to put them in close relationship to one another.
But lately I am letting go of these kinds of feelings and learning to be open to where God might be leading me. After all, isn’t this the point?
With a little exploration, I became surprised about this painting as I learned how this innocent scene of nymphs frolicking in the waves might actually have a spiritual connection to the act of offering and praise…and I urge you to look closely with me…
In this painting we see two women. The one closest to us is in the process of taking off her wrap in a motion that suggests giving of herself in an act of complete offering. She is unashamed and coming to the river in a “Just as I am” kind of motion. I spend a moment with her and mentally ascent to this kind of offering of self to God.
The other young girl, already naked, is leaping into the water with hands raised…and this becomes a symbol of worship and praise. My eyes are fully opened now to the possible spiritual nature of this scene, I sense a cleansing; a baptism of sorts; and I notice how the foam of the waves is echoed in the colorful vegetation as the land rolls up to meet the sea. This becomes God’s river of life and I breathe this holy idea into my heart, my soul, my mind and body.
Gauguin captures only a moment of recreation and refreshment, but as he does he is expressing the quality we all envy in the noble savage, a moment of fully communing with God in the gift of his creation. He painted this scene on his first visit to Tahiti as he was struck with a vision of a tropical paradise and the people in an act of uninhibited devotion to nature.
Seeing this scene leads me to ask:
What kinds of things inhibit our praise of God? Can it be that we never truly relax into spending quality time with our Lord? Maybe we stick with our traditions even though they are mind numbingly boring? or Let our fear of what others might think stand in our way of really filling our hearts with song?
I confess that I am guilty of all of these.
But perhaps I stand in the way of uninhibited praise of God because I just can’t quite lose my control…I’m afraid if I do, I might have to do or go some place I’m not willing to go…
If you would like to comment I always love hearing from others.
- What do you find appealing about this scene?
- Where can you imagine yourself? Are you observer or participant?
- How can we flow into God’s river of life?
- What do you think inhibits our praise and communion with God?
Happy Summertime and may God’s peace be with you by the sea:)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30