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A Beautiful Soul, Part 1

 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well. Psalm 139:14

In 1970, singer/songwriter Don McLean wrote what would become the mega-hit song, Vincent. Millions of people, myself included, were obsessed with this poetic story set to music about the 19th Century artist, Vincent Van Gogh. The song is better known by its opening words, based the title of one of Van Gogh’s many paintings, Starry, Starry Night. The lyrics of the song blend the tragic life of this troubled artist with references to many of his works. After struggling with mental illness and poverty, Van Gogh committed suicide at age 37. The line from the song that haunted me then, and still does today, is this:

“And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do;

But I could’ve told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”[1]

In the mid-1970s and 80s, I was a folk-singer playing at bars and coffee houses, and Vincent was one of the most requested songs in my repertoire. Many people had the lyrics memorized and would solemnly sing along. I believe there is a powerful truth lying beneath these words that many of us relate to in a very personal way. That powerful something is impossible to fully express in words, but it can be triggered by words, as McLean demonstrated. Once triggered, we know the experience in an unmistakable way. It has to do with the fact that each of us, like Van Gogh, has a soul that is too beautiful for this world. Many of us, in our most intimate and vulnerable moments, feel as though no one understands us. We feel mistreated, unappreciated, and alone – just as Van Gogh felt. When the people and circumstances in our world run roughshod over our tender essence, we feel we no longer belong. And we are right – that part of us is not of this world.

What was perhaps clear to Van Gogh, but becomes clouded over in the daily grind of our lives is that at our essence, we are a pure and beautiful soul. This applies to all of us, regardless of how inartistic we may believe ourselves to be. We enter this world as a fully developed soul in a minimally developed physical body. When our physical needs are satisfied, we are a wide-eyed sponge taking in the wonder and beauty of this mysterious, enticing, physical existence. It does not take long, however, to learn that this world, beautiful as it is, does not always reciprocate the love and wonder we attempt to bestow upon it. As we grow and mature, our physical being overshadows our spiritual nature in ways that can make our beautiful soul seem almost non-existent. We are protective of our precious essence, often unconsciously, because we know it is not of this world. Unfortunately, we become so protective as to almost shield it into obscurity. When we believe our beautiful soul may be wounded by this world, we double-down on our efforts to protect it. The abuse of drugs, alcohol, and other overly risky behaviors are often attempts at self-protection that dull the pain the world can inflict on our soft underbelly. Suicide is a tragic and far too common result of this inherently protective instinct.

Clearly, a balance between protection and expression is needed. By opening our beautiful soul to the world, all manner of awe-inspiring works are birthed, as witnessed by Van Gogh’s paintings, McLean’s song, well-prepared meals, and all the amazing works of life and art we enjoy. It is only when a person exposes his or her spiritual essence that an expression of the ethereal, unearthly beauty of the spiritual realm can be made manifest for us to see, feel, touch, taste, and smell. Unfortunately, the opening required for the soul leaves the person vulnerable. Part of the pain is the responsibility of those witnessing the soulful expression of another for not recognizing and appreciating the exposure required. Part of the responsibility rests upon the artist, too, in recognizing and accepting that a part of us really is too beautiful for this world. Finding effective strategies to cope with the tension is vital.

I will delve deeper into this discussion next week. For now, suffice it to say that repressing the expression of our beautiful souls is like praying with one eye open. We cannot become fully alive to our true nature without giving birth to physical expressions of our beautiful souls.

This is the 29th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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[1] Don McLean, Vincent. Universal Music Publishing Group, 1970.

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