30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

This Sunday’s responsorial psalm contains these beautiful words: ‘Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap. They go out full of tears carrying seed for the sowing; they come back full of song, carrying their sheaves.’

Anyone who has done, and who still does, any gardening, knows that the antithesis of tears and song is not so far off the mark. When I was in ministry in Hastings, I started a vegetable garden. The soil is so rich in the area they would say, ‘if you plant an ice block stick, it will grow!’

They neglected to mention oxalis and convolvulus also grow.

Sowing is a beautiful occupation, but it calls for hard work: the ground needs be prepared, the seed sown, then there is regular watering and aftercare.

The first green shoots bring an up-tempo beat of the heart (and if you are like me, a moistening of the eye!)

Then, after time, there is the delight in digging the new season’s potatoes, or a lettuce, cabbage, carrot, whatever.

The Sower
The image is a pencil, brush and ink drawing by Van Gogh, with the title “The Sower”, 1882. It hangs in The Hague, Netherlands.

Many of the great artists we admire know well the tears of sowing.

Once such artist is Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890).

During his life, Vincent experienced poverty, loneliness, and much illness. At times life was so difficult for him that he felt he couldn’t go on.

Once he said, ‘It is getting too lonesome, too cold, to empty.’ Van Gogh’s greatest heartbreak was a failure to win recognition as an artist.

Most people who knew him considered him a failure.

He was only thirty-seven when he died and by then he had sold only one of his paintings. It was sold for a few hundred Francs.

He said, ‘Painting requires a lot of faith because one cannot prove at the outset that it will succeed.

“In the first years of hard struggling, it may even be a sowing in tears. But we shall check them because in the far distance we have a quiet hope of the harvest.’

In spite of everything, he persevered. And the harvest did come, though too late for him.

The day after his death a few of his friends came and decked out the small room where his coffin lay with some of his paintings. It was only then that they realized how beautiful those paintings were. Today his canvasses are almost beyond price.

May the words of Vincent van Gogh, ‘Life is only a kind of sowing; the harvest is not here,’ echoing the words of today’s Psalm, ‘sowing in tears, they will sing when they reap’ fall on rich soil.

Footnote: Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme.

For more information on Vincent Van Gogh there is a worthwhile book titled, Van Gogh’s Untold Journey, Revelations of Faith, Family, & Artistic Inspiration – William J Havlicek, PhD.


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

I have had the good fortune to visit many places of exceptional natural beauty.

Two stand out in my memory always; the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Niagara Falls which border New York State in the USA and Ontario Canada.

Like many natural beauties, they can be experienced, however words fail to describe the experience with any accuracy.

“You will just have to see for yourself!” the person trying to describe will end up saying.

The same is true for great works of art, opera, musical composition. How does one put into words the different hues of blue in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, or the exquisite beauty in the harmony from Mozart’s duet ‘La ci darem la mano’ from the opera Don Giovanni, or Puccini’s B4, required of the tenor in the aria ‘Nesun Dorma’ from the opera Turandot?

I remember well while on a formation programme for Spiritual Directors one of the facilitators of the course saying quite definitely, “whenever you are sitting with another, and they preface their remarks by saying, ‘you are not going to believe this, but . . .’ or in a similar way saying, ‘this may sound silly to you, but . . . ‘ prick up your ears and pay close attention, they are about to attempt to put into words an experience of God!”

God’s ways are not our ways!

There is more truth to that than we normally think.

God is ineffable.

What that means is that God cannot be captured in our thoughts or pictured inside our imaginations.

This truth is one of the first things that the church affirms in its understanding of God, defining as a dogma at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that God is so metaphysically different from anything we can know or imagine that all of our concepts and language about God are always more inadequate than adequate.

God can be known, but never imagined or captured in a thought.

Why not?

Why can we never form a picture of God or speak about God in adequate ways?

Because God is infinite and our minds are finite. Infinity, by definition, can never be circumscribed.

That might sound abstract, but it is not.

For example: Try to imagine the highest number to which it is possible to count?

Instantly you realize that this is an impossible task because numbers are infinite and there is always one more. It is impossible to conceive of the highest number.

This is even truer in terms of any imaginative picture we try to form of God and of how we try to imagine God’s existence. God is infinite and infinity cannot be captured or imagined inside of any finite thought.

This is important to understand, not to safeguard some theoretical point, but for our understanding of faith.

We tend to identify a weak faith with a weak imagination, just as we tend to identify atheism with the incapacity to imagine the existence of God

Faith in God is not to be confused with the capacity or incapacity to imagine God’s existence.

Infinity cannot be circumscribed by the imagination.  All we say of God is true, but . . . there is always more.

With God it is always ‘not only but also’.

Many will have heard part or all of the duet titled ‘Au fond du temple saint’ from Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers (NZ Rail do the duet are huge disservice by using only a part of the duet as music to their TV commercial!).

My guess is that few would understand a word of it as it is sung in French!

Few would know that it is a song of reconciliation between friends who had fallen out!

However, if you close your eyes and listen with the ears of the heart, words and meaning have no purpose as you are caught up in the beauty of the sound.

My suggestion is, faith may be less about knowing, and more about enjoying.

If you wish to experience God, close off the eyes of your mind, open wide the ears of your soul and listen to the music your God is singing.