I recently watched a film about French artist Seraphine Louis (Seraphine de Senlis). The film was in French, and I thought it might help me to hear the words in conversation, that perhaps some of what I’m learning in my French lessons will stick if I hear other people speak it. I caught a few words, but spent most of the film glued to the subtitles while trying not to miss any of the action. Fortunately, French films about dead artists aren’t really known for their intense action scenes, so I kept up for the two hours it took to tell Seraphine’s story.
She grew up poor, hard, destined for a life where the creative gifts of her hands lent themselves to a life of manual labor. They scrubbed and cleaned and cooked all day long, and in the night, rather than sleep off the weariness of her day, Seraphine painted. She couldn’t contain her art, so she released it into the night onto scraps of wood with paints of her own making. Her employer, a well-known art collector, discovered her work and eventually sold and exhibited her paintings after she spent decades painting in obscurity.
Seraphine had visions. She heard voices. She was a troubled genius, broken from the inside out, and yet she produced some of the most interesting, creative paintings I’ve ever seen from a self-taught artist. Her story doesn’t have a happy ending, and I desperately wanted it to. I kept waiting for the plot lines to shift, for the words to begin to make sense on the screen, but the truth is Seraphine died with her art tangled up in her madness.
She was lost and found and lost again.
I read somewhere that the early Christian church sometimes called resurrection day the eighth day of creation because it is the day when all things are made new, where everything that is broken in both the body and the spirit has a chance at redemption. When I think of Seraphine’s story, and also when I think of my own, I see how the creative process of making all things new is ongoing. God’s Kingdom is present in the here and now, but also there is “not yet”. It is the “not yet” that I cling to, believing that the broken things of today, the thorns in our side that we beg God to remove, the sin and sickness and our own fallible nature, will one day fall away forever.
Until then, I will celebrate where I see God’s Kingdom moving in the here and now. I will celebrate and participate in this ongoing act of creation because this is a story with a happy ending.