To Lift our Spirits: Transcendent Art
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
CARAVAN Board Member and Founding President Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler shares his top pick.
Vincent van Gogh, The Church at Auvers, 1890, Oil on canvas, 74 × 94 cm
I was first introduced to this painting when I took a pilgrimage years ago to van Gogh’s grave in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, a northwestern suburb of Paris. The local church in the painting is directly across the street from the cemetery where he is buried.
The Church at Auvers is one of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings before his untimely death, and it reflects his experience of institutional religion. The way in which van Gogh contrasted darkness and light in different areas of the painting is highly emotive, creating an impressive mood. While the foreground of the painting is brightly lit by the sun, the church itself sits in its own shadow, and as he wrote, "neither reflects nor emanates any light of its own." There are also no doors shown. It looks like a closed, dark and unwelcoming place. I can visualize van Gogh, while painting the church, sitting there across from it and reflecting on his own experience years before of having been dismissed from his role as a lay minister of a church among the mining community in the Borinage area of Belgium. He was terminated by the church authorities as they felt he was too extreme in his close identification with the poor miners. It resulted in his disillusionment with established religion, and a focus more on spirituality, expressed through his art. Interestingly, this painting presents diverging paths in the foreground, reminding the viewer that we all have a choice as to which life path we take…one of welcome and embrace of the “other,” or of exclusivity.
Rev Paul-Gordon Chandler is the Founding President of CARAVAN, an international peacebuilding NGO that uses the arts to build sustainable peace around the world. He is an author, peacebuilder, art curator and a U.S. Episcopal priest. An authority on the Middle East and North Africa and the Abrahamic religions, he has lived and worked in the Middle East and North Africa for many years. He grew up in Senegal, West Africa, and has served in executive leadership roles around the world with the Episcopal / Anglican Church, faith-based publishing and relief & development agencies.
From 2003-2013 he was the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cairo, Egypt, and he is a Canon at All Saints’ Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt. He is currently based in Doha, Qatar, as rector of The Anglican Church of Qatar (The Church of the Epiphany & The Anglican Centre). The author of several books, his most recent book is titled “IN SEARCH OF A PROPHET: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran,” which focuses on the all-embracing spirituality of the early 20th century Lebanese born poet-artist and mystic, Kahlil Gibran, the author of The Prophet, presenting him a much-needed guide for our time.
More information can be found on the author website: www.paulgordonchandler.com.