Wilfried Joye


Bernie Mullen

A Meditation On Suffering
Psalm 88


Wilfried Joye was born in Dadizele, Belgium in 1939. He was ordained a priest in 1964 in the order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He has been working as a missionary in Potchfestroom in South Africa since 1966. He has often been exhibited in S A and in Belgium and his paintings often portray rural life and the human situation. His works are vibrant and appealing and he uses the fish as his symbol in most of his works. This is because the fish represents insight (it never closes its eyes) these remain open for the reception of life and truth. The mouth of the fish is always readily open and this symbolises capacity for the ‘food of life’ in its purity and fullness. The paintings of Joye are often religious and he presents to the world a journey of deep faith, the sacredness of life and the joy of hope. Fr Joye was a close friend of Fr Frans Claerhout and he often exhibited with him in South Africa and internationally.

Opening prayer:

My eyes are closed:
Locked within the turmoil of my life;
Barred with lashes
That cannot lift their lids to Light.
I sit in solemn contemplation of my plight.
There is no home-for-peace,
No place of solace,
No security in which to sleep.
The darkness grasps my heart
Like prison cells that harshly hold
All my suffering being would dare to seek.
Lord of grace,
Do you hear me weep?
I cannot feel your gentle pulse of calm
For my anxious soul’s relief.
Lord of grace,
Please heal my thoughts.
Deep within your silence
Let me hear you speak…

Centring Music:

Soul Renewal
CD: Essential Meditation

Pause for Reflection:

Scripture Reading:

Job: 42: 1-6

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
‘I know that you do all things,
And that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
I have dealt with great things that I do not understand;
Things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.
I had heard of you by word of mouth,
But now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I disown what I have said
And repent in dust and ashes…’

Pause for reflection:


This visual version of suffering by Wilfried Joye is expressed in Psalm 88. It is an extraordinary statement. It speaks volumes to our sensitivity. Nothing in the painting leaves us untouched and unmoved. The face, in pleading stance, is patched with deeply earthy colours as though to convey the various terrains of human existence. Terrains that have to be carefully negotiated if we are to survive life’s messy mysteries. The face is also roughly divided into to different attitudes. On the right, we encounter what is purely human and limited to human experience. On the left we witness the work of Love in us. We are lead into the truth that no matter what we feel, no matter how hard our trouble, we remain wholly affected by what God achieves in us. Joye takes us on a journey in which we encounter the real, offered and accepted gift; faith.

Pause for reflection:

Prayer: Ps 88 (Good News Bible)

Lord, God, my saviour, I cry out all day,
And at night I come before you.
Hear my prayer;
Listen to my cry for help!

So many troubles have fallen on me
That I am close to death.
I am like all others who are about to die;
All my strength is gone.
I am abandoned among the dead;
I am like the slain lying among their graves,
Those you have forgotten completely,
Who are beyond your help.
You have thrown me into the depths
Of the tomb,
Into the darkest deepest pit.
Your anger lies heavy on me,
And I am crushed beneath your waves.
Lord God, my saviour, I cry out all day…

Pause for reflection:
The more obviously human hand that arises from the frame on the right, lends emphasis to how distraught is the protagonist. It rests above the heavily sealed eyelid and seems to barely connect with the forehead. It in fact looks frail and ineffectual in its furtive touch. The human and sensual communication it could offer seems to go unheeded and unrecognised. In fact, it also grids across the forehead as does the eyelid that grids and seals the eye. We are moved into a serious announcement of entrapment. We are brought to a state of utter abandonment and trouble. The eyelid we think is the precursor of death: it looks forever locked and unable to open to any life form. Darkness, it appears, is eternal. Also pointing towards the head from the right are what may be construed as signposts. They are of no help in describing the way that should be followed: they point inwards and help to insulate and isolate the figure. They assist in creating the image of total despair: no way in and no way out...just imprisonment. No other communication but with the self.

Pause for Reflection


Lord God, my saviour, I cry out all day…
You have caused my friends to abandon me;
You have made me repulsive to them.
I am closed in and cannot escape;
My eyes are weak from suffering.
Lord every day I call to you
And lift my hands to you in prayer.
Lord God, my saviour, I cry out all day…

Pause for reflection:

A pure white hand emerges from the left frame of the painting. In the dark cavity between the two hands is painted a distinctly foetal shape. We can identify an eye, a mouth, the back and a leg. What is unborn sits in breach position. This makes any thought of engagement with life untenable. The foetus is not ready for birth, not prepared to face the reality of the outside world. This gives us a renewed sense of insulated darkness and helplessness. As the psalmist expounds; ‘you have thrown me into the depths of the tomb.’ Indeed we see no way out of confinement. The developing life is firmly encapsulated. Yet, the unborn seems also to beckons us back to renewal, to continuing development even though it cannot be successfully witnessed or even recognised as such. We know from past experience that what is not yet born lives, all be it in the mystery of a world of complete night. A world that relies on sensation and movement beyond its control.

Pause for reflection:

Lord, God, my saviour, I cry out all day…
Do you perform miracles for the dead?
Do they rise up and praise you?
Is you constant love spoken of in the grave?
Or you faithfulness in the place of destruction?
Are your miracles seen in that place of darkness?
Or your goodness in the land of the forgotten?
Lord, God, my saviour, I cry out all day…

Pause for reflection:

What saves the viewer from total despondency is that the psalmist refers to God as ‘my saviour’ in spite of him finding absolutely no evidence of this. In fact, he is out-spoken in stating the opposite and challenges a God who does not hear, with questions relating to a life after death. None of these challenges or questions have positive connotations. They are almost a derision of any hope. They are bitter in their utterance. ‘Is your constant love spoken of in the grave?’ Yet, God remains entitled as ‘saviour’. What brings us to ultimate involvement and regains our sense of faith and hope in Love is that we are privy to witnessing the saving hand of Light in action. Joye makes God’s statement for us. We are able to perceive with great relief and wonder, the transformation that it causes.

We first notice that the hand stretches across the lower part of the face especially over the mouth. It also touches the foetus and ignites life. The mouth we think at first is slightly open, perhaps to utter its concern and rejection. Joye however, uses its shape to integrate with it the symbol of the fish. It lies across the upper lip, small and almost invisible, with its widely open eye that enables Light. The nose too, begins to sense Light. We feel that all is not lost. We also note that the hand of Light covers or hovers above an earth mound that could well be a grave… God accompanies us in life and in death.

Pause for reflection:

Lord, God, my saviour, I cry out to you all day…
Lord, I cry to you for help;
Every morning I pray to you.
Why do you reject me Lord?
Why do you turn away from me?
Ever since I was young, I have suffered
And been near to death;
I am worn out from the burden
Of your punishments.
Your furious anger crushes me;
Your terrible attacks destroy me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
They close in on me from every side.
You have made my closet
Friends abandon me,
And darkness is my only companion.
Lord, god, my saviour, I cry to you all day…

Pause for reflection:

On the other hand, we may for a moment, come to realise that this depiction may well be one of absolute despair. We could contemplate that the ‘hand of Light’ may in fact, be the hand of death creeping across all that is vital on its journey to total engulfment. We are saved from this notion because we are also drawn to the other background signs in the painting. The winter tree sprouts a larger than life leaf. The house, the home, symbolic of the human heart has a dark interior but the door remains open and welcoming. The windows reflect light from within. The roof colour links us to the colour of the human hand. The tinged with blue sky seems to flow along and merge with the while light of the sun. The sun illumines and surrounds the head of the figure and begins to integrate with the forehead; patchy though this may be.

Perhaps Joye is reminding us that no matter what our perceptions of life and love at times may be, we do in essence always belong to God. That we are in no way conscious of this does not matter. It is truth beyond our limited perceptions. We are made for God and God alone. We can never be unloved. We will in the end, even if this takes place after physical death, resonate with Job: ‘I know that you do all things and that no purpose of yours can be hindered…’

Pause for reflection:

Closing music:

Radiant Light
CD: Essential Meditation
ELCD 022

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