The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ca. 1525–1569
We all want community like the one found in Bruegel's picture, one filled with work and rest, fellowship and friendship; simply put, we want to be together. Displacement is hard, alienation is even more difficult. Doubt and fear are synonymous with these words and I know they have followed me throughout my life. Even so, a life of faith is in this space between hope and despair. My dad knew this about me and reminded me to look hard in these spaces and find Jesus there. Christ knew alienation and displacement. And while his ministry was in the towns and cities, it was also in the margins. He spent 40 days in the desert and much of his time was spent in the mountains. Jesus steps into our place and even more so he knows our longings and our pain because he lived it too, his prayer at Gethsemane is just one example.
The Harvesters is one of my top five artworks in Manhatten's Metropolitan Museum of Art, a Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and di Paulo are the others, but that's another story. Bruegel painted what some consider a new humanism or lack of idealism that suppresses a religious pretext found in the landscape tradition of Western art's history. Rather than images with overt religious symbolism, The Harvesters represent for me a clear understanding of our material faith, one grounded in the doctrine of the incarnation. Christ, as I mentioned above, was placed in a particular time, within a particular culture, and within a particular people group. The Harvesters suggest to me that there are good things we want together, and while we feel like we have less of it now, we'll only drink more of the goodness to come.
And one more thing, when I talked to my dad about the darkness in my art, I reminded him there is no place too dark where the light of Jesus does not shine. The golden glow of the Harvesters is such a painting for me. It illuminates and he would affirm.