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After 27 years at the service of Christ, it was the 10 years invested in art lessons that gained him status as one of the world’s greatest artist.

Vincent Van Gogh was a Christian missionary long before he began sketching with reed pens.  But what happened?  The salacious details we know, but his profound devotion needs to be shared.

Vincent was born to two generations of clergymen…pastors in the Dutch reformed church.   After not passing the exam to enter the seminary, Vincent became a missionary to coal miners in the Borinage section of Belgium.

Much like St Francis, Vincent gave away his earthly possessions to live like the coal miners who had inadequate food, water and shelter.

He shared the unconditional love of Christ by preaching the Gospel and more importantly serving to their most basic needs.    His bedsheets became bandages when needed.

While he made progress with the miners, the church leaders thought he was too zealous, poorly attired and his speech not eloquent enough.  Yet he was living the Gospel true to the Word amongst the church community. Van Gogh was then shunned from his duties by church leaders.

Then Vincent Van Gogh returns home to his parents, rejected by a church he served so selflessly.

And then begins the storied life of Vincent in the art world.  He is quoted to say that the masterpieces of art need to lead to God.  “Christ lived serenely, as an artist greater than all other artists, scorning marble and clay and paint, working in the living flesh.”   While his work with the coal miners ended, he used those memories to memorialize their struggles in his early work.  And his experience with hunger and hard labor does pour through the canvas.

During his artistic training, he also took in a pregnant woman as a model.   “I could not pay her the full wages of a model, but that did not prevent my paying her rent, and, thank God, so far I have been able to protect her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her.”

And yes, there are a lot of mental health stories about Vincent Van Gogh, including how his ear was sliced off and in the manner of his death.

Instead, next time you look at his work, see if you can see how he symbolized his faith.  The famed “Starry Night” is “ Vincent’s view that the darkness of sin, guilt and death are overcome by mediated grace.”  And in that intense image, heaven is just “reaching down” to the earth.

Divinity, God and the Heavens are all symbolized by the color yellow.  And that is probably why that has been my favorite color for a very long time.  And why I have been drawn to the humanity, complexity and beauty of Vincent Van Gogh.

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Liz Banko

Liz is a native New Yorker has found herself living in a number of states with husband, Peter, of 25 years for their commitment to Catholic healthcare.

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