There are a series of artworks that have forever stayed with me. After initially learning about them at high school in visual arts – there are four works of the same image – I was immediately able to relate to them. Even now they have the same powerful impact on me as they did then.
It would be a dream to be able to freely express what is going on in these famous works known as The Scream, in some healthy and real way. Expressionism and Symbolism began to emerge as artists started to become more bold in producing works that were considered outside of the box. And there is probably a no more symbolic and expressive work that is able to symbolise human brokenness like this one.
The truth is, I have never really expressed myself in the way I have dreamed. And it’s not because I don’t know how to, it’s because I’ve never allowed myself to do it in such a way. The Norwegian artist who created The Scream, Edvard Munch, was one of modern arts great innovator’s. It’s no surprise to learn he struggled with bouts of mental illness; it was an episode of anxiety that brought these works into existence. In his later years, he withdrew from society and lived a quiet rural life, mostly in solitude. But it must have been remarkably liberating for Munch to be able to communicate to others, through this great work, what was going on for him. It’s certainly a work that sits with the tortured artist stereotype.
Today during a quiet moment, while reflecting over the past two and a half years (maybe a tad longer), The Scream came back to me while I was helping my daughter with her visual art assessment, which funnily enough, is on modern art. Looking at that painting again, it summed up for me perfectly, a period I would call the darkest of my life. While it’s a relief to be in some kind of recovery, it’s too long a story to go right into now. I actually thought I was entering recovery earlier last year, but it proved to be a false dawn. And sometimes it’s going to be like that. It’s a bit like an athlete who has suffered a severe hamstring injury, like a footballer who did his during a final in 2015 and missed the entire 2016 season.
When it began it was like life suddenly brought everything up: my past, present and future; the good, the bad, and the ugly. There was stuff I needed to acknowledge, work through and answer honestly.
As a follower of Jesus, I would like to say it was God confronting me about some stuff in my life. While I would consider that to be true, the truth is, I was losing touch with life and everyone in it … the distance was great. And all I wanted to do was scream. In fact at times, all I did was scream … mostly inwardly. Like David did in the Psalms, I was either crying out to God to save me from whatever it was that was strangling my life, or I was convinced God had given up on me: M
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
And that is about as bad as it got. While I don’t understand why, God is not the blame for the darkness I endured. Self-sabotage has played havoc with much of my life and there were outside influences that didn’t help, both indirectly and directly. It was a hard test and an excruciating time.
Not helping the situation was some serious objections I had grown towards Western Christianity and wanting nothing to do with it. The problem was, what I was seeing around me, and in my own life, was hopelessness. I felt hopeless. Like some kind of failure, like I was missing the mark big time, and like some kind of laughing stock – I would close my eyes and literally hear laughing and mocking voices. I felt like I had turned into life’s biggest quitter, and nearly quit on life itself. It didn’t help going to work and seeing hopelessness up close and personal, and then seeing hopelessness amplified by despairing global situations.
What I have learned through this period is that is quite easy to talk yourself into disillusionment, especially if all you have ever known is negativity. If you’ve grown up in an environment where pessimism reigns, being “positive” and having optimism are almost impossible concepts to grasp. They are indeed foreign. A past where abuse has been present will always take time to work through and process. There were many occasions growing up where I felt like that broken person in The Scream. And it’s how I felt during that dark period, it was like operating on suspended animation. Danielle Strickland wrote in her book, A Beautiful Mess, “The story of our pasts can very effectively obscure our vision of the future and our awareness of expanse that comes with that,” and that’s kind of what happened.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
And right now, that is where you find me – gingerly walking in the land of the living.