1 VAN GOGH
The most famous and most popular painting of Van Gogh is Starry Night, painted in 1889.
This is painting also one of the most recognized paintings in the world. It has been reproduced onto placemats, cards, posters calendars, jigsaw puzzles, T-shirts and many more. Maybe you can recall the beautiful song Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean which is based on the painting… To stand in front of this painting in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is utterly breathtaking.
Van Gogh painted this iconic painting when he was at the mental asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He created this painting after a major mental breakdown and felt depressed and suicidal.
The lower part of the painting depicts his dark mood with darker, murky colors.
Don McLeans’ words conveys this: Paint your palette blue and gray, with eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
But, looking up, there is also the brilliance of light and color in the night sky! Don McLean paints with words: Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze.
At the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in New York, there a very interesting reflection and commentary on the painting. He directs our attention to the tree that connects the Flaming flowers that brightly blaze with the dark lower depressive part of the painting. It draws the light and brightness into the town…
On the website https://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/starry-night.html, the author states: The sky is the divine. It is by far the most dreamlike, unreal part of the painting, beyond human comprehension and just out of reach…Van Gogh brings God to the dark village.
I never noticed the tree before. Suddenly a metaphor struck me! How Christmas trees, for me, a symbol of the Tree of Life, Jesus Christ, brings light and hope into sometimes dark cities, homes and hearts! In the midst of the darkness people feel in their souls the Tree of Life bringing divine hope and joy!
Background of the Letter to the Philippians:
Philippians is also part of the so-called “Prison Letters”. Paul wrote these letters as prisoner in Rome, possibly facing the death penalty! As you can imagine, the conditions in prisons in those days were extremely difficult. It was known for food shortages, sickness, and torture.
Still, many theologians call the Letter to the Philippians the “Letter of Joy”. The word joy occurs 16 times in the letter! It is about true Christian joy that is deeper than just blissful happiness of perfect external circumstances. Paul wants to share his joy in Christ!
See with your imagination Paul in prison writing in Phil 4:4: Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! (Be glad and joyful in the Lord, Paul says, sitting in prison…)
He writes in Phil 4:11 “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. “
Paul discovered the secret of life and he shares the secret with us! Being in the dark and murky prison, Paul finds Joy in the LORD!!! Flaming flowers that brightly blaze the JOY of Christ into his prison cell.
2 DARKNESS IN THE WORLD
In the times we live in, there are many factors that create dark inner storms and turbulence. I wish I could sit down with each one of you now and just listen to your heart. What causes the internal turmoil in you?
Some of us face profound challenges, terminal illness, loss of partner or child, health challenges, emotional pain, persistent worries, haunting experiences of the past, tension in relationships, or even major concerns about the future.
It is extremely challenging to find joy in such circumstances.
A while ago, at the end of a 6-day silent retreat, someone gave shocking feedback the group. She cryingly said: “I just realized at the retreat, that I was about to die one day, but I haven’t lived! Worry and fear stole my life! “(2X) She went on to tell how she was always living with worry, anxiety and fear…. that it stopped her from actually living. “
This is the problem of WORRY Paul refers to in verse 6. Worry that disconnects us from the deep joy in the Lord.
He invites us to a path to lasting inner peace and joy in all circumstances.
3 But what is this Joy and Peace Paul refers to?
It is extremely important realize, that the joy and peace he refers to is not the absence of storms. The Joy he refers to, is a deep awareness of the presence of God in the midst of storms. The turbulent emotions, worries and thoughts are somehow still there but inner peace flows like nourishing water though our souls.
The joy in the Lord is like the deep undercurrent of a stream, as opposed to the surface torrents. It is always present and flowing with joy and peace.
Some Christians are convinced that they should not experience outer or inner conflict and storms. They think that there is something wrong with them if they are disturbed by inner turmoil like depression, anxiety, or sadness.
According to various texts in the Bible, all believers, even Jesus, experienced great challenges that affected their thoughts and emotions. Can you remember Jesus’s agony in Gethsemane? Just listen to the Psalms! Paul frequently articulates the impact of various inner and outer challenges. But the inner peace and joy they found in God brought a depth dimension that went deeper than emotions and beyond reason … Rejoicing always, and a Peace that transcends the mind! Surpasses all understanding!!!
Def of you in the Pamphlet Christmas Gifts
The Christmas angel said the new Good News was of great Joy. This gift of joy is a spiritual state of mind that recognizes that we are blessed in every circumstance by the birth of Christ. Our joy in Jesus celebrates that even when we are sad or struggling, our Savior is among us to comfort and encourage and guide.
This joy does not mean the absence of worry, sadness, anxiety! But solid stable foundation of peace in Christ, even when the tornado’s of the world comes over us.
The mystic Teresa of Avilla said: “Just because the soul sits in perpetual peace, does not mean that the faculties of sense and reason do, or the passions. There are always wars going on in the other wanderings of the soul, there is no lack of trails and exhaustion. But these battles rarely have the power to unseat the soul from her place of peace. “
Theresa understood our human faculties more like a room. The soul is deeply connected to Christ. It is “roomy”. It creates space… for many emotions and thoughts to appear and disappear. Create space for both in one heart!
Jurgen Moltmann ends his breathtaking Theology of Joy presentation with these words:
Finally, we ask: which is greater, the joy or the grief, the happiness or the pain, life or death? And my answer is: existence is greater than nonexistence, life is more than death, hope is above despair, and so joy is greater than pain….
So pain too will be caught up and gathered into joy, despair into hope, and temporal death into the joy of divine life. Pains are passing, and I hear praise everlasting.
4 PAUL INVITES US ON THE INNER ROADMAP TO JOY!
4.1 GOD IS THE STABLE CENTER from which we approach turbulence
The Message translates verse 7 as follows: “It is wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
God is the deep stable core amid the storms. The PRESENT ONE is the Source of Joy and Fountain of Rest. In Christ you will find peace that transcends all understanding!
The most prominent message in these verses are how intimately we are connected to God : GOD is intimately present:
V 4 THE LORD IS NEAR!
V7 We are “in Christ.”
V 9 God who gives peace will be with you.
Your being and life are rooted and grounded in GOD
I invite you to come and sit at the Fountain of Life that is not beside you but is in you (John 7:39). He is the Stream of Living Water that brings deep nourishment.
E Tolle writes: And so when you forget your rootedness in Being, your divine reality,
and lose yourself in the world; confusion, anger, depression, violence, and conflict arise
when humans forget who they are.
Only in God, the Intimately Present One, you can find a eternal joy and rest…Everlasting Life.
This truth should not only just be heard cognitively. It goes beyond reason! It must resonate in every part of your being. When you found the pathway to the Fountain of Rest and Peace within you, it becomes the home to which you can return to at any time, if the storm clouds gather.
Spiritual disciplines, spiritual practice (like prayer), especially Christian contemplation ground us in this truth of God being the Centre. That is how we integrate the truth and awareness of God as the Centre! And because it is already true, we pray with thanksgiving.
Phil 4: 6 and 7 “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7
4.2 WATCH YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS
Now Paul invites us to the next step: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” v7
From the Stable Core / Foundation/Anchor in GOD, our consciousness can now “keep watch
in my inner world. The safety and steadfastness in Christ become the vantage point from which you look at the landscape of thoughts and emotions.
In Phil 4:7, Paul uses the word Φρουρέω “froo-reh’-o”. It means: to be a watcher, or to guard as a sentinel (post spies at gates); figuratively to protect: – keep (with a garrison)
to guard (from loss or injury, properly by keeping an eye on), to watch.
The Philippians were familiar with the image of the Roman guards because there were many army veterans in Philippi (fil-li-pee)! The Peace of God will keep watch at the gates of your mind and heart. (Heart: root thinking, willing, and feeling and thoughts)
We all have the capacity to observe your thoughts and feelings… We can be aware of what is happening in our inner world. That capacity can be trained so you can become more skillful in knowing yourself
BRING WHATEVER YOU FIND INTO THE LIGHT. It is brought into light through our awareness! We listen carefully to our thoughts and emotions in the LIGHT of the SPIRIT.
With prayer and supplication and thanksgiving, you bring it in the presence of GOD …Articulate everything you see in your thoughts and emotions in God’s presence. By labeling the thoughts and emotions …. tension, anger, depression, anxiety, jealousy, longing, sad discouragement, or maybe positive emotions …God can work through his healing presence.
Please try to understand how different this coping skill is: There is a ceasefire with your uncomfortable emotions: depression, sadness, anger, bitterness, grief, worry, anxiety. We stop fighting them, not even running away! Now we are curious about what is going inside like a guard watching with high alertness.
The reason why this process is successful is that you cannot solve thought problems with more thoughts!!! A Wise person once said: You can’t wash off blood with blood! If you try to fix your thoughts with even more thoughts, you can end up with thoughts that become entirely out of control and much more inner conflict. The invitation is to bring your thoughts to God in the Light of consciousness.
Now you can observe the emergence and disappearance of thoughts from deep tranquility without condemning it! So, if you have regular or troubling thoughts, this is not the problem, how you respond to them makes it a problem. We give weight, content, and impact to the mind if we subconsciously allow it. If you watch it from a stable core, you can deal with it more skillfully.
The nature of this new relationship with the thoughts and emotions is as with your child: with interest, compassion, and kindness. Not condemnation and harsh tyranny. The child is not in control, your consciousness in Christ is in control. With love, you listen and respond from the wisdom you received. Sometimes your thoughts and emotions will be so beautiful and creative, but sometimes they can do extremely unhealthy things. If you try to rule your inner world like a tyrant, you will just get more trouble. Handle it with respect and love and they can be taught and grow to establish healthy patterns.
A different attitude towards depression, anger, anxiety and pain causes you to look it straight in the eye, but it does not determine your identity! The result is freedom, space and distance that helps us respond more skillfully. In the Christian context, we also see it so clearly that the cross is the core metaphor of moving towards the difficult. Through the cross we receive the resurrection and life!
Awareness helps us to become skilled observers of ourselves, and less bound to our thinking, more objective and the untamed thoughts. But to use any tool like the skill like attentiveness well, you must practice it. Like practicing the piano, you need strange simple exercises in the beginning. Later, the skills become second nature.
4.3 A Renewed Mind!
Phil 4: 8 refers to the third critical step to inner peace: “Finally, beloved,[e] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[f] these things. “
The Message translates the verse as follows: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
Can you see how Paul describes the process: From the Stable platform of connectedness with the Divine, Be attentive to what is going on in your mind and inner world, and then shift your focus to something healthy. By doing this over and over, you create new pathways in your brain. What you focus on, is where the energy flows.
The way we handle our unhealthy thoughts is like leaves in Fall: The tree stops providing nutrients to the leaf, and then the leaf falls off by itself. That’s how it works with your mind. If you do not feed the unhealthy thoughts, they will go away.
CHRISTMAS TREE IN FRONT A SYMBOL OF GODS COMING IN THE MIDST OF OUR DARKNESS!
So too the trees you see all over, and the tree in your house: The Tree of Life bringing hope, peace and joy into your house and heart.