Levitan has stopped for a moment in the cemetery of this old church. The wooden grave marker in the shade is weathered; the stone church needs to be painted. Maybe Levitan didn't go inside because he was Jewish. Or maybe he simply felt no need to enter the church, pleased to stand outside, listening to the summer sounds of birds and whirring insects.
This isn't a well-manicured church with a gold-lettered sign out front, clipped hedges and a tidy weed-free lawn. This church is way out in a rustic area, likely attached to a small village. Has the place been abandoned? The priest and the people gone away? There is a scene of loss.
- To live on this planet is to know loss:
- The loss of a pregnancy.
- A marriage ends in divorce.
- Declining health.
- The losses that come with aging.
- A damaged soldier.
- The losses brought on by addictions.
- Lose the job; lose the house.
- The loss of a child to bad influences.
- The losses people suffer around the world: the children of Sudan dying of famine and thirst. The bombing of Syria's cities.
Levitan stands in this churchyard of beauty but also of loss. There is no resolution. Maybe the parishioners did the best they could to hold onto their church and couldn't do anything more. Sometimes things just have to be suffered or endured. We can become bitter, sour, angry victims, or, because we know the sorrow and pain of loss personally, we can stand in a heart-solidarity with the world in its own awful losses. Maybe God is most near then - God, so understanding of loss for having lived with us in Christ.
Does the painting suggest this? Look! it's not a gloomy day, the sun is shining brightly, intensified by the reflective-white of the building. Standing near this church wall we might squint or shield our eyes with our hands - like Peter, James and John before the brilliant Transfigured Jesus. Can you feel it?