Jesus is risen – hallelujah!
The beauty of the forty days of Lent draws to a close – and the beauty of Eastertide begins, a fifty-day festival of light and resurrection: a stone rolled away at dawn; a joyful, astonished community; and a promise of the Spirit, the deep, fiery reds of Pentecost to come.
But Easter is also a time of shadows. The savior is risen – but the wounds of crucifixion remain. The brutal empire, by all appearances, is still in power. The disciples have betrayed and abandoned Jesus, melting away when it mattered most. Their shame, their sorrow, their wounds remain as well.
Vincent’s “Wheatfields with Crows under a Stormy Sky” can help us
mediate on this mix of light and shadow. Easter is indeed a time for
trumpets – but it’s only the beginning. The skies are still troubled.
Loneliness and heartache hang in the air.
And yet, at the same time, the loving, liberating power of God is on the move, vibrantly clear if we have eyes to see: in the wheat rising, the crows rising, the wind rising, and our spirits rising as we behold this dynamic, healing scene, this visual parable of restoration, proclaiming good news in ways that reach beyond words.
“Wheatfields with Crows under a Stormy Sky” is the last major work of Vincent’s life.
“They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness. I hope you will see them soon – for I hope to bring them to you in Paris as soon as possible, since I almost think that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, the health and restorative forces that I see in the country” (Letter to Theo, #649).
This painting is often interpreted as a portrait of menace and madness, but Vincent’s own description points in a different direction.
The skies are “troubled,” he says, evoking sadness and loneliness, but the overall effect is an example of nature’s “health and restorative forces.”
Vincent once insisted to Theo that looking at a “wheatfield, even in the form of a picture,” offered a great deal to suffering people, much more than abstract words or hollow assurances (Letter to Theo, #597).
And the Japanese artists Vincent so admired often included humble, common birds (often black birds) in their compositions. The sky may indeed be stormy, but the regenerative powers of nature – both in the wheat and in the crow.