At Eternity’s Gate. Artists of the Infinite

by John O’Brien Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



This book is filled with the art and thoughts of the Masters. However, we live in a world where violence, hate and greed seem to reign supreme. When Machiavelli wrote ‘Il Principe’ (The Prince) he wrote about how to be ruthless and succeed in life. The works of the righteous were all well and good but they didn’t really have any relevance to “Real life”.


Soren Kierkegaard sought to make Christianity in his native Denmark more authentic. He saw the words of scriptures as being addressed to us personally. The contained a call for each individual. They were love letters from God. In more recent times Henri Nouwen sought to find spirituality in our world. He trained as a psychologist as well as a theologian. He had to battle against his own insecurities and failures. He spoke of these in his writings to give others courage in their struggles. He had to learn self-compassion and then compassion for others Through his life and writings he enables us to find our ‘home’ in the love God has for us and allow that love to heal us. This is the journey we are on in this book. I deal with ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd. This shows us how we can get locked in on ourselves. It is love that breaks down the wall and we learn ‘we are the Beloved of God’. In Chapter Three the author looks at Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal son and Henri’s reflection on this painting. Then I look at Vincent Van Gogh and Henri’s teaching based on Van Gogh to teach us compassion. The final chapter is based on Henri’s shared meditations on four icons.


When we look back at Rembrandt’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ we feel the ending is unfinished and so it is. When we look at the icon of the Holy Spirit we see another unfinished story. Is the one in darkness released? We are called to the community of the Holy Spirit and yet we do not see this meaningful community. We are called to end the story in our own lives. In the Prodigal Son we can find ourselves in the different characters. How we respond is up to ourselves. In this sense the ending is in us.


The icon of the Holy Spirit teaches us that we often experience the opposite of the peace in the icon. We do not experience the community the icon speaks of, There is no light in the darkness. Yet we are not called to despair but to hope. We need to place ourselves in the group and allow ourselves to be open to God’s Spirit. When we find God in ourselves we can reach out to others. We write the ending—‘God in us’ is where we start. We are called, each in our own way, to find our home in the ‘House of Love’.

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