In 1972 Carol Berry attended a class given by Henri Nowen at Yale Divinity School. It was called, “The Compassion of Vincent van Gogh.” He began his first lecture with these words:
“Here we are — people who want to prepare for the ministry. What do we want to do as ministers? Well, one thing is sure: we want to give strength to people in their daily life struggles. Many people have done this, and we often reflect on their lives for inspiration. I should like to introduce to you a man you may have often heard of, but not as a giver of strength, not as a minister … it is the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh.”
Carol audited this class, not because she was training to be a pastor, but as an artist. She and her husband became friends with Henri, and after his death, she was approached to write a book using the notes from the class. She has studied van Gogh’s life for years, traveling throughout Europe to retrace his steps. She has also given presentations and led retreats focused on his works.
The book is divided into three sections:
Each section is further subdivided into three parts:
- Henri (giving some details about Nouwen and the course)
- Vincent (centering on a segment of van Gogh’s life)
- My story (the author relates some of her experiences with her husband in ministry)
There are pictures of van Gogh’s work throughout. The narrative of his life dwells on his compassion and desire to live following the example of Jesus. Nouwen described him as “one who saw and wanted us to see with him.” He saw beauty in the ordinary life, often used biblical parables as themes, and used the symbolism of light to remind us of God’s presence in nature.
VERDICT: 4 STARS. Short, but meaty. You’ll get an education in understanding and “seeing” art if you read it.
For more on Henri Nouwen see:
Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review
Henri Nouwen on Traveling
Henri Nouwen on the Blessing of Poverty
For more on Vincent van Gogh see:
At Eternity’s Gate –Movie Review
At Eternity’s Gate by Kathleen Powers Erickson — Book Review
Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review