From Insanity’s Bondage to Creativity’s Freedom

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INSANITY
 

Not a word we are fond of. Nothing inspiring about the word. And when the word insanity is more than just a word, we shudder in its grasp. Insanity brings its own bondage, stealing one’s freedom to live, confiscating one’s creative expression. Insanity can be a complete, all-encompassing mental breakdown, even bordering on madness, OR it can be a state of being that most of us have experienced — irrationality, instability, disorientation, mania. Many people (noted scholars) have mused that “the definition of insanity is the most overused expression of all time.” (Salon.com)

Remember the declaration about “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?” Yes, I know you remember that definition, probably have said it yourself in an exasperating moment!

Where am I going with these bizarre introductory words?

I’m actually going to a place you may not expect. I’m going to the rush and swirl of color in one of my favorite paintings, A Starry Night by the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. The painting draws me in — into the little village with its steepled church, into a sky filled with sparkling stars, into the glorious luminance of the crescent moon, into the swirls of blues and whites and yellows. I have pondered many times what sort of mind and soul could have created a painting like this one.

The story behind A Starry Night is the unnerving story of Van Gogh. A few months after experiencing a mental breakdown on December 23, 1988 that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear, Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole Lunatic Asylum. During the year Van Gogh stayed at the asylum, his prolific output of paintings continued and he produced some of the best-known works of his career. A Starry Night was painted by around June 18, the date he wrote to his brother Theo to say he had a new study of a starry sky.

A Starry Night was the only nocturnal painting in the series of views he saw from his bedroom window. In early June, Vincent wrote to Theo, “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big”. Researchers have determined that Venus was indeed visible at dawn in Provence in the spring of 1889, and was at that time nearly as bright as it could be. So the brightest “star” in the painting, just to the viewer’s right of the cypress tree, is actually Venus.

Too much information? Probably, but here’s my point that is not really about insanity at all. Rather, it’s about breaking free from bondage and taking back my life. You see, sometimes the sight of a big, bright morning star can replace whatever fear or angst I am feeling. Sometimes looking into the deep of a starry night can carry me to resplendent places. Sometimes even my slight insanity can transport me to my deepest expressions of creativity.

For me, insanity is my incessant scurrying around with too many things to do, a kind of mania. That frenzied scurrying is of my own choosing and therefore, leans a little too close to self-imposed insanity. I wonder if instead of that scurrying life of bondage, I could make time for moments of thought that would enable me to say something like what Vincent Van Gogh said from his asylum: 

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise with nothing but the morning star — the brightest star — which looked very big!“

Contemplate for a moment the insanity of a life encumbered — filled to overflowing with too many things to do — compared with a life of stargazing that might just awaken fresh and bright creativity in you.

As for me, I’m heading toward a spiritual transformation — a life of sacred pauses, a stargazing life, a grace-filled re-awakening!

I hope you are, too.

Supermoons and Sacred Pauses

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What’s all this about supermoons and sacred pauses?

You might legitimately ask that question!

Well, this stream of thought began for me when astrological experts said that the Super Pink Moon that appeared on April 7th would be the “most super” of all supermoons this year. They also said that the moon would not be pink at all.

Before you get your hopes up, this “Super Pink Moon” won’t actually look “super pink”—or any hue of pink, really. The Moon will be its usual golden color near the horizon and fade to a bright white as it glides overhead.

— The Old Farmer’s Almanac (https://www.almanac.com/content/full-moon-april)

That information did not please me at all. I had really looked forward to seeing a pink moon. The Farmer’s Almanac — always a reliable source of information since its founding in 1792 — described what the April 7th moon would look like.

It is not to be missed — The Super Pink Moon: The Biggest and Brightest Supermoon of the Year! April’s full Moon will be closer to Earth than any other supermoon in the series. It will be the biggest and brightest full Moon of 2020! How big and how bright, exactly? On average, supermoons are about 7% bigger and about 15% brighter than a typical full Moon.

There you have it, from every farmer’s most tried and tested source on all things earth! But in addition to the disappointment that this supermoon would not be pink in any way, the most devastating disappointment of all was that on April 7, 2020, Macon, Georgia was completely overcast! For all gazing intentions, there was no moon at all that night, not a pink moon and not even a white one. Like other Middle Georgia folk, I missed the whole thing, the entire phenomenally astounding sight!

Other people in other places saw it, though, in all its splendor. They took pictures, some of which looked like a round, dull white ball in the sky. But others — including NASA of course — posted pictures of a brilliant, unforgettable moon. And one person took a stunning picture of this supermoon that was brilliant white and surrounded by an ethereal pink ring! And they said it would definitely not be pink!

The pink-ringed moon picture made me very happy! It was the emotional boost I needed in a time of pandemic isolation. In the midst of such a troubling and fear-filled time when all over the earth, a supervirus was touching people with upheaval, sickness and death, it was a very opportune time for an uplifting supermoon. Still, I wonder why it even mattered to me or anyone else. After all, moons rise and fall every single day. Even supermoons rise on a predictable astrological schedule.

So maybe my lesson here is acknowledging that I seldom go out at night just to gaze at the moon. When I notice a moon in passing, it’s as if I’m thinking, “So what! It’s just another moon!” And yet, the moon might be in the night sky just to remind me that the moon is the Creator’s metaphor for something that is everlasting, permanent and yet changing. I actually do look to the sky once in a while and see a new sliver of a moon on a cloudless night or a full moon glowing brightly enough to light my path. Ever so often, I’m thrilled by the discovery, as though I were seeing it for the first time.

Instead of ignoring a moon that appears most every night, perhaps moon gazing can be a spiritual moment that helps me know that at least something in my life is everlasting, that the promises of God are ever near, that my faith can light my path, that, as the Psalmist writes, the moon is eternal, a “faithful witness in the sky!”

It will be as eternal as the moon,
    my faithful witness in the sky!

— Psalm 89:37 NLT

Moon gazing can also be my time of spiritual comfort as I recall the words of the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of the rising of the sun and the moon as a part of binding up those who are injured and healing the wounds of God’s people.

Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

— Isaiah 30:26 NRSV

At the end of the day, we can know this: gazing at the moon can remind us of the magnificent smallness of humanity and the overwhelming magnificence of God. The Psalmist invites us to marvel at how we dearly we are prized by God in a Psalm that lifts up both Divine majesty and human dignity, unequivocally declaring that God cares for me, and that God cares for you.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens . . .

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

— Psalm 8:1, 3-9 NRSV

The last word in my story On this day is that the moon, the sun, the stars — all created things — are not merely created, they are God-created, and God’s creation may very well be worth a few extra moments of gazing into night’s quiet pauses — praying and praising, reflecting and listening. Listening for the voice of God. Listening for the sigh of the soul!

I love the photo of that moon surrounded by a pink circle of reflected light, because it was for me a divine and holy light. I know that it was divine and holy, because it abruptly stopped me. Just a picture it was, not the real moon that I might have seen in my night sky. Yet, it took on the power of my faith that has always assured me that God can be found in all things, simple or sacred, ordinary or holy.

My faith has taught me that, more times than not, a very ordinary thing — an ordinary act or an ordinary moment — can suddenly and surprisingly become holy. Just that one ethereal moon captured in a commonplace photograph silenced me, calmed me, reached into my soul and divinely interrupted me for a much needed sacred pause.

Maybe that’s the meaning of the words we often say about a picture being worth a thousand words. As for me, I will just say thanks be to God for beckoning me to night’s quiet pauses, sacred pauses that I needed so deeply.