Anyone who has done, and who still does, any gardening, knows that the antithesis of tears and song is not so far off the mark.

“Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap. They go out full of tears carrying seed for the sowing; they come back full of song, carrying their sheaves”, Psalm 126.

Years back working in the parish in Hastings, I started a vegetable garden. The soil is so rich in the area the local people said, ‘if you plant an ice block stick, it will grow!’

They neglected to mention oxalis and convolvulus also grow.

Sowing is a beautiful occupation, but it calls for hard work: the ground needs be prepared, the seed sown, then there is regular watering and aftercare.

The first green shoots bring an up-tempo beat of the heart; the joy of new life.

Then, after time, there is the delight in digging the new season’s potatoes, or a lettuce, cabbage, carrot, whatever.

Many of the great artists we admire know well the tears of sowing and one of them is Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890).

Sowing in tears

The image is a pencil, brush and ink drawing by Van Gogh, with the title “The Sower”, 1882. It hangs in The Hague, Netherlands.

During his life, Vincent experienced poverty, loneliness, and much illness. At times life was so difficult for him that he felt he couldn’t go on.

Once he said, ‘It is getting too lonesome, too cold, to empty.’ Van Gogh’s greatest heartbreak was a failure to win recognition as an artist.

Most people who knew him considered him a failure.

He was only thirty-seven when he died and by then he had sold only one of his paintings. It was sold for a few hundred Francs.

“Painting requires a lot of faith because one cannot prove at the outset that it will succeed.

“In the first years of hard struggling, it may even be a sowing in tears. But we shall check them because in the far distance we have a quiet hope of the harvest,’ wrote van Gogh.

In spite of everything, he persevered. And the harvest did come, though too late for him.

The day after his death a few of his friends came and decked out the small room where his coffin lay with some of his paintings. It was only then that they realized how beautiful those paintings were. Today his canvasses are almost beyond price.

Van Gogh had a special interest in sowers throughout his artistic career. All in all, he made more than 30 drawings and paintings on this theme.

May the words of Vincent van Gogh, ‘Life is only a kind of sowing; the harvest is not here,’ echoing the words of Psalm 126, ‘sowing in tears, they will sing when they reap’ fall on rich soil.

  • Gerard Whiteford is Marist priest; retreat facilitator and spiritual companion for 35 years. He writes regularly at


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