I found the rose last December showing off in Big Spring Park in Huntsville, Alabama. It was simply gorgeous and many people were pleasantly surprised to find its unexpected beauty.
Van Gogh offers more than a “quotable quote” here. Instead of making a pithy statement about art, he uses art to challenge our notions of love. Moving us beyond ideas of love as feelings and romance, he calls us to love in a way that an artist creates. And that is anything but romantic or fleeting.
When we experience a finished work of art–visual, written or spoken, performed, musical composition–we respond with admiration or distaste without ever fully considering what the artist pours into the work or how gut-wrenchingly vulnerable it makes one to place the inner life on display.
When we truly love people, we are similarly crafting and creating, unveiling our most intimate self and making ourselves vulnerable to the scrutiny, judgement, and sometimes the disdain of others. Our love for people doesn’t always mean they will love us back and though our natural inclination is to protect ourselves, we must learn to love them regardless…
This point was driven home for me and my little one last week, as he was present when someone disrespected me in a public forum. Though angry, my little one emphasized that he “admired [my] restraint” because he knows that many people wouldn’t have taken it so calmly. On our drive home we talked about where that “restraint” comes from. I was honest with him. Some base part of me could have humiliated the man and “put him in his place,” perhaps deservedly so, but that this man could behave this way suggests that he needs my prayers, not my tongue. In an instant during the exchange, I paused long enough to hear from God, check myself, and recognize in the offender the child of God whom I am called to love.
Van Gogh is not speaking of simply loving people in our circles, those with whom we already share a heart connection, or those who are easy to love. Nor is he simply speaking of a general, abstract love for humanity. The artistry and mastery of love come as a result of loving through challenge and difficulty and loving people who aren’t loving, even people who can be mean and evil. It comes as a result of seeing them as complex beings who, like a work of art, are more than what we immediately see.
Just as it takes more than a few strokes of the artist’s brush to create a masterpiece, it takes intense soul work and an intimate and constant connection with the Divine to make art of loving people.