I spent some time last week poring through my father's massive library of classic and historical literature, a collection lovingly and thoughtfully compiled over more than 60 years. I was surrounded by the balance of this library growing up, but always tended to be more interested in current and political events, and pop culture. As I grow older and, perhaps a bit more nostalgic, I find myself drawn increasingly to the very books that put me to sleep when I was 20. At 45, they move me in a way that nothing current could.
I returned home with a few titles in my luggage. Right now I'm reading Lust For Life by Irving Stone. First published in the 1930's, it's a novel of the life of Vincent Van Gogh spliced generously with true-life events. Early on, Stone develops a visceral if not discomforting tale of unrequited love. Van Gogh has fallen hard for a woman named Ursula who spurns him in a surgical, tenderless way. As I was reading this account, I felt as if I were living it, and a Bible verse kept popping into my head:
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. (Psalm 42:1) The superscription for this psalm reads: "Thirsting for God in Trouble and Exile."
Stone bathed Van Gogh in a desperate wash of yearning. At the mercy of scorching, pendulum-like emotions, every sense was wrapped like string around the finger of the object he coveted above life itself: Miss Ursula. It was, in this fictionalized tale, a time of trouble and emotional exile for the artist. But rather than panting for God, Van Gogh is depicted in a rash, compulsive, aching pursuit of something that could fill a deep well inside. Like trying to grab a brick of fog, he would come to the realization that the thing that made him happiest was never even there.
How often in life do we fall into a similar trap? Chasing wholeheartedly after fillers and salves only to find that if and when we grasp them, they fall away and disillusion.
In God, our Father, we have an omnipresent and utterly reliable truth. Mysterious and elusive... a spirit we cannot touch. Yet One who is powerfully and assuredly ever present in our midst.
On my DVD last week: Will Penny starring Charlton Heston and Joan Hackett... some intense scenes not suitable for young children, but otherwise a mighty fine retro cowboy flick and surprisingly poignant love story.