For starters, van Gogh painted “Starry Night” from his room in an asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh had checked himself into the asylum to recover from an emotional breakdown (the infamous breakdown during which he had cut off his left ear). He painted it just before sunrise conceivably to express an inner longing that the light would soon overcome the darkness for him.
In the foreground is a shadowy, flame-like cypress tree which, at that time, would have been associated with cemeteries and mourning. Yet keeping this foreboding image in check, something in the heavens is stirring with breath-taking supernatural life.
The movement in this apocalyptic violet and dreamy-blue sky is exaggerated. It keeps the viewer’s eyes moving around the painting – following the swirls. It won’t let us sleep this night. We are to keep vigilant to see what will come.
Below houses surround a church. Warm light glows from the windows of the houses but the church remains strangely dark inside. Perhaps van Gogh sensed that the Spirit of God was surging and illuminating all around him – but he still watched and waited for a hoped-for light to come to his temple.
It has been supposed that the eleven stars in the painting are an allusion to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9 – “I had another dream,” he said; “this time, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars were bowing down to me.” There is a prophecy. Joseph might have been sold into slavery for a time, but one day he would be a prince and all that oppressed him would submit to a higher power and glory.
Pray over the painting. In the remaining weeks of Advent, search out other ways to pray – and make an effort to shut down those things that distract you from prayer. Something in the heavens is stirring in the midst of darkness for you.
Advent is pregnant with meaning and blessings.