Popular artist Thomas Kinkade died on Good Friday of 2012 at age 54.
Many people love Kinkade's art, which belongs to the Lumnism School, an approach to art characterized by painting in a way that brings out the natural reflection of light in the paint. His works appear to emit an otherworldly "glow," which Kinkade believed evoked "the light of the world," Jesus Christ.
One part of Kinkade's story is his marriage to childhood sweetheart Nanette, with whom he has three daughters. At times, the marriage was strong and faith-filled. Kinkade has often hidden his wife's and his daughter's initials in his paintings.
A second part of Kinkade's story are the hundreds of people who have contacted him to tell him how his art brought them closer to God or helped them to overcome depression. Some people report that his art was instrumental in keeping them from committing suicide or in revitalizing a spiritual journey.
Sadly, a third part of Kinkade's story is his premature death from acute intoxication from alcohol and Valium. Kinkade's wife had sued for divorce two years earlier; he was living with his girlfriend of 18 months and spent his last hours drinking all night.
Kinkade's story offers several poignant reminders for Epiphany, the season of light, the season in the Church year when Christians celebrate God's gift of light in Jesus Christ to the world.
First, light is precious, free, and nobody can bottle, package, or preserve it. In other words, light is for the moment and must be cherished in the moment, for otherwise it perishes. Kinkade, whatever one thinks of his art, sought to share light and had some considerable personal experience of living in the light.
Second, for whatever reason(s), Kinkade moved from the light into a world of shadows and darkness. His life spun out of control. The scary reality is that this can happen to any of us, no matter how firmly anchored in the light we may think ourselves. Small steps and actions, seemingly innocuous, can introduce shadows; events beyond our control can block part or most of the light.
Third, the message of Epiphany is that shadows and darkness do not have the power to block the light permanently. God acts repeatedly to shine the light anew into our lives, to expose the shadows and darkness for the emptiness that they are.
In the prelude to the 1996 summer Olympics, runners carried the Olympic torch across the United States to Atlanta. Several times during the run, the torch went out. The first time was on a foggy day when two cyclists were carrying the torch across a drawbridge. When a steel joint in the bridge punctured one of their tires, the cyclists dropped the torch and the flame died.
Although this was probably an embarrassing moment for the riders, the moment was far from a catastrophe. A "mother torch" was kept in one of the support vans; the cyclists relit the torch they carried from the "mother torch," fixed the flat, and resumed their ride.
Relighting the torch is an apt metaphor for the spiritual journey during Epiphany. The good news of Epiphany is that people – and this can include all of us – who once walked in darkness now walk in light. Religious resources – scripture, meditation, prayer, music, art, community, helping others, etc. – are all means of relighting our inner torches and our paths.
The ironic tragedy of Thomas Kinkade's death is that the artist so many called "the painter of light," when lost in a world shadows and darkness, did not (perhaps could not, because of pride, self-image, or addiction) allow anyone, not even God, to re-illuminate his life and his path.