Summing up my life with a painting

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A few weeks ago, I went to the National Gallery. And while I was there, I came across Thomas Cole, a British-born American painter, and his four-piece series, “The Voyage of Life,” which really spoke to me. In particular, the third painting, depicting “Manhood,” and its accompanying explanation:

Storm and cloud enshroud a rugged and dreary landscape. Bare impending precipices rise in the lurid light. The swollen stream rushes furiously down a dark ravine, whirling and foaming in its wild career, and speeding toward the Ocean, which is dimly seen through the mist and falling rain. The boat is there, plunging amid the turbulent waters. The voyager is now a man of middle age: the helm of the boat is gone, and he looks imploringly toward heaven, as if heaven’s aid alone could save him from the perils that surround him. The Guardian Spirit calmly sits in the clouds, watching with an air of solicitude the affrighted voyager. Demon forms are hovering in the air.

Trouble is characteristic of the period of Manhood. In Childhood there is no cankering care; in Youth no despairing thought. It is only when experience has taught us the realities of the world, that we lift from our eyes the golden veil of early life; that we feel deep and abiding sorrow; and in the picture, the gloomy, eclipse-like tone, the conflicting elements, the trees riven by tempest, are the allegory; and the Ocean, dimly seen, figures the end of life, to which the voyager is now approaching. The demon forms are Suicide, Intemperance, and Murder, which are the temptations that beset men in their direst trouble. The upward and imploring look of the voyager shows his dependence on a Superior Power and that faith saves him from the destruction that seems inevitable.

I was there with a friend, and in reflecting on why it grabbed me so, I said,

I think this is where I’m at, knowing the troubles of the world, but having faith also in God, who is bigger by far than any and all of those troubles.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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