Joy in a Time of Uncertainty – A Journey [meditation]

This is the last of four meditative and artistic journeys, written and created by Petra Shakeshaft. We invite you to settle in, and see where she takes you on this beautiful journey of Joy in Advent. Petra’s journey has woven through these weeks of Advent. You can download her original pdf at the end of the post.

Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1888 The National Gallery
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent van Gogh is not usually an artist to be associated with Joy, but these sunflowers were painted during a period of optimism that was rare for him. He was waiting for his friend, the artist, Paul Gauguin to join him to realise his long-held dream to begin a working community of artists in Arles.

For van Gogh, the colour yellow was the colour of happiness. The house in Arles was called the Yellow house, which boded well for Vincent and the series of sunflower paintings were painted to brighten up the walls of the interior. Later, he saw them as wings of a triptych, either side of La
Berceuse (The Lullaby), a painting of Madame Roulin, the wife of the Postmaster, ricking her child’s cradle. They would be like the candles of an altarpiece, burning on either side of this mother image, his own version of the Virgin Mary.

The flowers show the cycle of life, death and new life. There are buds, flowers in full bloom and flowers whose petals are dropping, with the seeds ripe and ready to fall and begin the cycle again. As with his series of Sower paintings, we are reminded that his life and imagination were steeped in the Bible. Death, life and new life were concepts he explored and reimagined time and time again.

The Bright Field – R S Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
JOY 2020 Monoprint with woodcut, by Petra Shakeshaft

A field of sunflowers is a joyous thing.
They stand basking in the warmth, turning their heads to face directly into the sunlight.
Many of us have relished the unusually long, hot summer this year – it has seemed like a kind of recompense for the restrictions imposed by the lockdown. The leaves and flower heads were collected towards the end of the summer on walks – with time to search and harvest from nature’s generosity.
Choosing shapes and textures to press into the inks,
Finding colours, blues and oranges of the late summer skies and scorched fields,
a reminder of the long walks with time to observe,
to notice and enjoy aspects of nature that often go unseen.
Birdsong and breezes, ripening corn, blackberries … almost ready.
These are the bright sunlit memories that we carry into the long winter nights,
another lockdown, the season of remembering death and human brokenness
and a time of waiting;
Advent waiting
How long, O Lord, how long?
But the seed, always the seed.
The promise of a new joy, born into the darkness of another winter long ago…
always the seed, the new joy waiting to be born again in us.


* Think back and remember a time when you felt really joyful.

* Advent is a time when we hold in tension the darkness and the coming light. In a world that
feels very broken and uncertain, where can we look for Joy?

* Make a prayer space using things or images that give you joy. If you draw or paint, you could
make your own images. You could make little prayer cards (as before) with words of joy,
images or names of people who have brought you joy. Offer prayer of gratitude and put them
in the prayer bowl.

God of all joy, we come before you in praise and thanksgiving for all who have brought us joy.
Lead us from the darkness and uncertainty of this world
into an Advent of expectation that the light will come, the light has come
and will not be overcome.
We pray that through prayer and reflection and through your grace
the Christ-child may be born in us anew this Christmas.