What do you know about Vincent Van Gogh? Anything? Well, he’s one of the greatest artists the world has ever known. He was mostly self-taught. He created over 1,000 paintings in a short span of just 10 years, including the well-known masterpiece “Starry Night.” Van Gogh also suffered from depression and other emotional struggles, and is infamous for cutting off his own ear. During his bout with depression, he sought refuge in an asylum in southern France, and it was there, looking out his bedroom window, that he gathered the inspiration for Starry Night. Van Gogh was a deeply religious, thoughtful man, and Starry Night is largely seen as representative of his feelings on life, death, and heaven. He remarked, “Just as we take a train to go to Rouen, we take death to go to a star.” Wow.
Starry Night is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It is there for anyone to come in and look at, consider, get lost in. And there’s no doubt, especially after learning a little bit about Van Gogh, that this painting is special and deserves its prominent display in MoMA. But what if someone came by, looked at the painting, and didn’t feel moved? What if they didn’t think it was special? What if they stared at it for a while and “just didn’t get it?” What if it didn’t speak to them? What if it didn’t make them smile or laugh or cry, no matter how hard they tried to understand? Does that mean that the painting isn’t special anymore? Does it lose its value? Does it cease to be a real Van Gogh? Of course not, and the idea is ludicrous. How a person feels about it doesn’t lessen the essence of the experience.
Our encounters with God should be understood in the same way.
So many times we make our encounters with God all about the feelings. We want to praise and worship loudly and exuberantly because it makes us feel good. We get a rush. Or we don’t want to go to Mass because we’re bored by the priest. We don’t feel entertained. We don’t understand adoration or we feel cheated or overlooked because we didn’t feel God’s presence during that hour. Well, it isn’t about the feelings. We pray to God because He is the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Kings, creator of the universe and worthy to be praised. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Prayers of praise are entirely disinterested and rise to God, laud him, and give him glory for his own sake, quite beyond what he has done, but simply because HE IS (2649).”
And He is: patient, understanding, merciful, creative, a Savior, a father, a brother, a teacher, loving, forgiving, compassionate, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. He is so worthy of our praise.
Whether or not we feel moved by what we see and experience, even if we don’t understand, if God doesn’t speak to us, or if the priest’s homily is boring, that doesn’t change who God is. It doesn’t affect His magnificence. It doesn’t change the fact that He loves us and sees us, and it definitely doesn’t change that we are called to keep praying and worshiping. We must. Our souls depend on it. At Mass, in adoration, during youth group, while singing, resist the urge to make it about your feelings. Don’t just do what feels comfortable if you feel called to more. Don’t just do what everyone else does if you feel called to something different. Don’t be afraid or discouraged because you lacked an emotional reaction and someone next to you is falling to the floor. Trust that the essence of who God is does not change. Understand that your presence, attention, and devotion is what He wants. You won’t always be hit smack-dab in the feels, you won’t always experience some kind of physical outpouring of emotion, and oftentimes silence and peace are even better. It is there that God has the most freedom to work.
I will leave you with one of my absolute favorite scriptures to proclaim:
At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.
Then the LORD said to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Remember, it isn’t about our feelings. God is glory and majesty and magnificence, but He doesn’t always manifest Himself as such. Sometimes He is in the silence, and He speaks to us in tiny whispering sounds. He waits for us to come before Him, just to be there, to spend time with Him, and to think. Our feelings are good, but they aren’t the answer. God is the answer, and the only answer that never changes.
Written by Melissa Velez