At the end of a very long week I had a day off and went to Claude Monet’s Garden exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. The beauty was almost overwhelming; so much light and colour. Despite all this light and colour the painting that has stayed with me is one of a single willow tree painted in dark reds and greens.
During World War One Monet painted a series of single willow trees as his response to the suffering, grief and death he witnessed. The day after war ended he donated one of the images to the nation.
Many of Monet’s brightest paintings are so bright because he draws no shadow in them. The willow tree is full of shadows. It reminds us that light is best seen and know in darkness, that shadows point to the power of the light.
The willow tree’s canopy speaks of shelter, the colours of suffering. It reminds us that life is rarely shadowless sunshine. Rather in the midst of suffering we also experience shelter. For me that shelter comes in the joy of family, the companionship of friends, the privilege of vocation, and most of all in the enduring presence of God who holds me in all things.
The willow tree, red and green, gnarled and bent, darkness and light, shelter to a suffering world is the tree of life. The One whose suffering on a tree brings not the elimination of shadows but light that endures thought darkness, life that defeats death and hope that is not overcome by despair.
These days in the life of the Uniting Church has its own share of darkness as we seek to remake our way of being in the face of challenges and opportunities. We seem more dark willow than sunny field of yellow flowers. So I’m left pondering the following:
Who will provide shelter?
How do we shelter people when we are seen to be the cause of their sadness?
What does it mean not be a community of shelter and suffering?
For myself, these are the questions I’m wondering about as a result of seeing this painting:
How will I continue to nurture my relationship with God so that I always know I am held?
What does it mean to be a community of faith that seeks to provide sheltering the face of suffering?
How will we as a nation shelter the most vulnerable and acknowledge their suffering?
How do I live with the paradox that within me is both my own sadness which seeks shelter and the desire to shelter others?
By Sharon Hollis
Continuing Education Co-ordinator