Ordinary Time: Proper 13

Vanitas – Still Life with Bouquet and Skull by Adriaen van Utrecht — oil on canvas, 26.3 x 33.8 inches, circa 1642.

July 31, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Hosea 11:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-9, 43 • Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 and Psalm 49:1-12 • Colossians 3:1-11 • Luke 12:13-21

View Lectionary

Image description: Rendered in exquisite realism, this vanitas has a warm dark setting. At left in dark shadow sits a floral bouquet of pink and white roses, yellow daffodils, multi-color tulips, irises and sprays of small flowers. Some of the tulips are wilted and drooping. A limp pink rose with dry, curled leaves slumps over the edge of the table. At center sits a vine draped skull atop a dusty red book along with a pearl earring, gold signet ring and a gold and pearl pendant strung on black velvet. Behind this grouping stand a tall slender glass vase with gold rim, a shorter pedestal glass bowl and an small wood-housed hour-glass. An ornate golden pedestal bowl occupies the right side of the painting. Below it is a large spiral shell and a small silver tray with a pile of smoking tobacco in paper. A long white pipe lays on the tray and across the book. A note scribbled on paper hangs over the table edge under the silver tray. Scattered at the front of the table between the floral vase and book is a gray string of pearls, a gold pocket watch, gold and silver coins, and a thick gold chain.

Teacher: Life is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a breath; All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity. I have witnessed all that is done under the sun, and indeed, all is fleeting, like trying to embrace the wind. — Ecclesiastes 1:2,14

Then I’ll be able to say to myself, ‘I have it made! I can relax and take it easy for years! So I’ll just sit back, eat, drink, and have a good time!’”
Then God interrupted the man’s conversation with himself. “Excuse Me, Mr. Brilliant, but your time has come. Tonight you will die. Now who will enjoy everything you’ve earned and saved?”
This is how it will be for people who accumulate huge assets for themselves but have no assets in relation to God. — Luke 12:19-21

The texts for this week, especially the passage from Ecclesiastes, has long been the inspiration for a very specific genre of art known as vanitas. The vanitas (Latin for vanity) was made popular by the Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. The example here by Adriaen van Utrecht is a fine example.
A vanitas still-life contains the following symbolic objects pertaining to the brevity and precariousness of life along with the futility of its vain pursuits:

  • an hourglass, clock or watch
  • withering flowers/vegetation or rotting fruit
  • extinguished candles
  • coins, jewels, glass or pottery – the trappings of wealth
  • books, eyewear – the pursuit of knowledge
  • wine, tobacco, musical instruments – earthly pleasures
  • a skull

These still-lifes were very much meant to encourage spiritual meditation on one’s earthly life and pursuits and the consequences of any such vanities. The lectionary texts today do the same.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s