I shall never forget the last sermon preached by a friend just before he resigned from his position as a minister of religion.
He made three simple assertions: that God is the Creator; that we are made in his image; and as a consequence, we too are creative. He went on to argue that if we do not discover and exploit our own individual creativity we might never know fulfilment in our lives.
Interesting that this man, having left the ministry in his early forties, is fast becoming one of Ireland’s most celebrated artists. However, he was not saying that we all have the capacity to paint, or write poetry or sculpt or photograph or dance or sing. No, he was simply saying that each of us is unique, each has a talent of which we might not be aware. He was saying that we each have the God-given ability to make a contribution to the lives of others, if not to society as a whole.
Vincent Van Gogh may have been one of the most creative men who ever lived, yet in his short life he was seen as a failure. He tried his hand at teaching, then as an art dealer, but failed. He decided he would be a preacher like his father, so he went to theological college and was sent down the mines in South Belgium to tell the miners about the love of God, but because he would not follow the guidelines set before him by the governing body overseeing his ministry they terminated his position.
Van Gogh had a sad life, as did his brother Theo, and when Vincent finally committed suicide at the age of 37, Theo followed him to the grave just six months later.
Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, La Vigne Rouge, (The Red Vineyard) for 400 Swiss francs, equivalent to around £370 in today’s money. That painting today is thought to be worth in the region of £30 million.
However, after years of rejection, loneliness and depression the man lost his mind and was admitted to an asylum in France in May of 1889. He was shown to his room by a nun, who asked: ‘Would you like me to open the windows?’ Vincent nodded and when she opened them, he looked out on the countryside with its sun-washed fields and he painted what he saw, signed it in the lower right hand corner: ‘Vincent’, and titled it ‘Irises’, arguably one of his most beautiful works.
Vincent Van Gogh can still preach through his art, if we have eyes to see. God is the source of all human talent and the value now placed on the 2100 works that his contemporaries considered worthless – among them Starry Starry Night, The Potato Eaters and Sunflowers – is a measure of the esteem in which Van Gogh is now held.
His unspoken sermon is this: Creativity has been built into every one of us, it’s in our DNA and we miss what is best for us when we say: ‘I can’t!’ We miss out when we adopt the default position of underestimating ourselves.
Surely what you see when you stand beside a homeless person, or witness the ruined life of an alcoholic or a drug user, is the great sadness of our age (maybe of every age), the wasted opportunity to see not just their creative ability, but also the inestimable worth that God places on each of us.
Let’s learn to live out the creative gifts that God has given us, starting today.