Ordinary Time: Proper 15

Expulsion. Moon and Firelight by Thomas Cole, ca. 1828
Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 122 cm, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

August 14, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 • Jeremiah 23:23-29 and Psalm 82 • Hebrews 11:29-12:2 • Luke 12:49-56

View Lectionary

Image description: A rich and detailed fantasy landscape is dominated by a natural stone bridge spanning the center of the painting. To the right of the bridge is a large cave opening on a tower of rock from which a bright light (possibly from a raging fire inside) is glowing. Behind the rock tower, in the upper right corner of the painting is a glimpse of an idyllic mountain and valley landscape with a warm dawn or dusk sky. At the paintings center is a dark and foreboding storm/smoke and ash-filled sky (from a volcano erupting far off in the distance) above a tall and slim waterfall plunging into a deep and rock-faced cavern below the stone bridge. The horizontal bridge and the waterfall behind form a cross. The left portion of the painting includes jagged rock peaks. In the distance, more ash hovers above a full moon above the sea. On a rock cliff in the lower left sits a large mangled dead tree. Blood stains are visible near the edge of the flat surface of the cliff.

You took us a grapevine dug from Egypt; You forced out the nations and transplanted it. Why have You pulled down the wall so that everyone who wanders by can pick its? O God, Commander of armies, come back. Gaze down from heaven and see, keep watch over this vine. Your enemies have chopped it down and burned it with fire; may they be destroyed by the sight of Your rebuke. Let Your hand rest on the one at Your right hand, the child of man whom You have raised for Yourself. Then we will not turn away from You. Bring us back to life! And we will call out for You! — Psalm 80:8,12,14,16-18

Jesus: My mission is to send a purging fire on the earth! In fact, I can hardly wait to see the smoke rising. Do you think I’ve come with a nice little message of peace? No way. Believe Me, My message will divide. I have a kind of baptism to go through, and I can’t relax until My mission is accomplished! — Luke 12:49-51

Thomas Cole is honored as being America’s first landscape artist, and this was how he was taught to me in my college studies. What I am discovering about Cole (and so many of the artists this Visio Divina venture has me perusing), is he allowed his work to express his own spiritual journey and faith ponderings. Cole took his love of landscape and fused it with spiritual meaning as Expulsion. Moon and Firelight presents. Here, Cole is presenting a fantasy landscape around the theme of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin and their expulsion from the garden. The painting documents the movement from the pristine and perfect beauty of Eden on the right to the harsh reality of the world at left into which sin now is present. The blood seen on the rocky cliff is likely a nod to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain.

In addition to this biblical reference, Cole is also working out a personal concern in this painting. Cole was fearful of what would become of the beauty of the American wilderness as he watched the nation’s rapid industrialization. Expulsion’s transition from Paradise to Destruction speaks to this apprehension.

I found the dead twisted tree in the painting to serve as a nice metaphor for the vine spoken of in the texts today. I also enjoyed pondering this painting along with the words of Jesus in the Luke passage to be enriching. What connections between this image and the texts are you able to make?

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?

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