The benches welcomed me with cushioned comfort; the hush invited a loosening of neck and shoulders. A handful of other visitors spoke in low tones, if at all. I spent a few minutes on each bench, before getting up for close examination, and then a move to the next viewpoint. Serenity intensified the experience of color, scope, light, mist, life.
I spent a holy hour at L’Orangerie in Paris, letting Monet’s magnum opus get under my skin. The oval rooms showcase the massive canvases of the artist’s offering: the view of his gardens from the blush of sunrise through dazzle of afternoon to the depth of dusk. After my lingering circuit, I returned to a bench in the last room.
This is not the view on the Monet-themed postcards, coasters, stationery, umbrellas- not the bright golds and pinks and teals. This panel shows the garden in the velvet purple and indigo of twilight. Light has departed. The vibrating life in the rest of the oval rooms is hidden by the ruling shadow.
Fifteen years previously, I had visited these paintings, but then I had lingered with the dazzle of daylight. Now my eyes followed the subtleties of brushstroke and fade of dark to darker. As I traced the artistry of shadow, my appreciation of the aging master artist grew. It occurred to me that Monet had lavished just as much care and attention on the dark section of canvas as on the rest. His eye perceived the details and beauty of the twilight garden. He didn’t just paint a block of black to indicate nightfall; he labored over day’s end with affection. He knew that the day in his garden was not complete until deep dark cloaked the view.
Last week I lost a dear friend to cancer. There is a gaping hole in her family, and in her circle of friends. We all reveled in her brightness, in the color she brought to our lives, the exuberance. When my family was deep in the crisis years of Nicholas’s illness, she faithfully prayed and listened and emailed. In the dark time, God painted her as a glow of His love.
Oh, how we will miss her! It’s not hard to wonder if God messed this one up.
But our Master Artist cares about every brushstroke that composes the picture of our lives. The times of darkness, the walking in the valley of the shadow of death, receive the same tender care and attention as the rest. He sees the sweep of the whole canvas. He chooses every shade with love. Perhaps when the view is obscured, we can more easily see the the purity of His hand at work. When I’m not distracted by the pretty flowers, bridge, ponds- maybe then is when I can focus on the Hand that is doing the painting.
Maureen, I will miss you every day on this earth. I’m grateful for the parts of your painting I got to see. I am so happy for you that you now stand encircled by the everlasting arms and see the whole thing.