Ordinary Time: Proper 25

Surprised! By Henri Rousseau — oil on canvas, 129.8 x 161.9 cm, 1891. Image courtesy of The National Gallery London.

October 23, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year C
Joel 2:23-32 and Psalm 65 • Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 and Psalm 84:1-7 • 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 • Luke 18:9-14

View Lectionary

Image description: The scene is a jungle filled with a variety of trees, grasses and other tropical plants in rich yellow and green tones with the occasional pop of rust and orange. At right a flaming red bush peeks out of the background. At center is a crouched snarling tiger, wide-eyed, showing all its teeth and with a slender tail slinking back through a tall clump of pampas grass. Lightning bolts are also visible in the dark grey sky behind the trees. The entire piece is streaked with an effect to mimic driving rain.

You leave us breathless when Your awesome works answer us by putting everything right. God of our liberation — You are the hope of all creation, from the far corners of the earth to distant life-giving oceans. — Psalm 65:5
Do not fear, O land. You have been revived. Celebrate and rejoice, for the Eternal One has done great things! Do not fear, you wild beasts: You will eat again, for the desert pastures are green again! And so will we: the trees bear their fruit; the fig trees and the vines produce their bounty once again. People of Zion, shout with joy and happiness in the Eternal, your God; The drought is over; He has sent the early autumn rain as a sign of His faithfulness. He has poured down heavy rain, autumn and spring, as before. — Joel 2: 21-23
[The Lord] stood by me, strengthened me, and backed the truth I proclaimed with power so it may be heard by all the non-Jews. He rescued me, pried open the lion’s jaw, and snatched me from its teeth. And I know the Lord will continue to rescue me from every trip, trap, snare, and pitfall of evil and carry me safely to His heavenly kingdom. May He be glorified throughout eternity. Amen. — 2 Timothy 4:17-18

I love that Rousseau titled this piece, Surprised! It’s exactly what I experienced recently walking into a room at the National Gallery in London and seeing this painting. Its been a favorite of mine for a long time. Rousseau was not a trained artist. One of the first artists in more recent history to be widely appreciated and acclaimed as an amateur, Rousseau is known today as the pioneer of naïve art. His work was laughed at, some thought him a fool. And yet, as Felix Vallaton, a young artist and writer observed upon seeing Surprised! exhibited for the first time in Paris: “His tiger… ought not to be missed: it is the alpha and omega of painting…not everyone laughs, and some who do are quickly brought up short. There is always some thing beautiful about seeing a faith, any faith, so pitilessly expressed.”

As to connections we can make between this painting and some of the lectionary passages… First, I like how the title, Surprised! captures both an experience of perhaps meeting a tiger in the jungle, but also the experience of being struck with the beauty of the creation (as in the Psalms passage) or a magnificent artistic expression (as Vallaton wrote). I most enjoyed reading the Joel passage plus a few extra verses (21-22) while contemplating this image – a beautiful expression of the earth being restored and refreshed. Then there is Paul giving us a wonderful visual of how God has rescued him.

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