Editor: The Revd Michael Burgess continues his series on God in the Arts with a look at ‘The Potato Planters’ by Jean-Francois Millet, which hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. If you use the picture, please credit: Jean-François Millet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Enter My Rest
At this time of the year we are planning and looking forward to holidays: to that welcome break away from the pressures and responsibilities of daily life and work. The book of Genesis opens with a glorious account of God’s work of creation and tells us that even God rested on the 7th day.
We all need to find that balance of work and rest, of activity and slowing down in our lives. And we are not always good at that because our world seems to be in the fast lane. We rush everywhere, we rush out of habit, and we rush because everyone around us is rushing.
This month’s painting, ‘The Potato Planters’ by Jean–Francois Millet, a 19th century French artist, portrays two peasants at work. They don’t seem to be rushing, but Millet has certainly portrayed the hard toil of their work, digging in the earth from sunrise to sunset to eke out a living. Millet was the son of a farm labourer and many of his paintings convey the severe realism of peasant life. We can sympathise with the couple working on the land, and our eyes focus on them as they dominate the canvas.
But in the corner under the shade of a tree there is a donkey and a sleeping child. The donkey knows only too well the reality of toil and work, but here he is resting, enjoying the peace and the shade. Andy Merrifield, an American philosopher, has just published an account of his travels with a donkey, Gribouille. As they journey together, the donkey teaches him the value of patience, the importance of going slowly through the world, and the preciousness of tender friendship between humans and animals. They are all caught up in the little donkey in this painting.
The man and woman in the foreground may reflect our own lives with the duties, the expectations and the demands called of us at work. Take time to focus on the donkey, enjoying his rest. Take time this summer to find relaxation and recreation on holiday. The world may carry on spinning around us, but use that holiday to stand apart and enter into the rest that God enjoyed after His work of creation.