Sunday, May 14, 2023

‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo

One of the most famous images from one of the most famous art masterpieces is “The Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo. God and Adam are reaching out to one another, their fingers barely an inch apart. This painting is so famous, it’s been the subject of countless parodies. Do a Google search for “God Adam Sistine Chapel meme,” and you’ll see what I mean.
The traditional description of Michelangelo’s painting is that God is shown creating Mankind, and He is about to infuse His spirit into the first man, Adam. You can almost sense that an electric spark is about to occur as their fingers draw nearer to each other.

In the painting, God is reaching out, fully extended, to touch Adam. At the same time, Adam is kind of lounging on his side with his left arm raised, but he is not really reaching out. His wrist is hanging limp and his forefinger is angled downward. Maybe Michelangelo was trying to tell us that Adam didn’t have the strength to fully extend himself, since the spark of God’s spirit had not yet entered him.

There’s another way we can interpret this painting. Yes, the painting is called Creazione di Adamo (The Creation of Adam), but it also could symbolize the way mankind interacts with God long after the original creation occurred.

Look at the painting closely. God is reaching way out, almost straining, to touch the man. But the man is impassive, not straining at all. It’s almost as if the man acknowledges God, and wants to get somewhat close to the Almighty, but not too close.
Doesn’t this describe so many of us? We believe that God exists and that He is the creator of the Universe. We know that we ought to be in a loving relationship with God, but we also prefer to keep that relationship at arm’s length. Why? Because if we get too close to God, we might have to change the way we live our lives. That would force us to leave our comfort zones. And if there is anything modern Americans cherish above all else, it is our comfort zones.

“I really should pray when I wake up in the morning — but I’d rather check my email.” “I really should get dressed and go to Mass — but I’m in the middle of watching a good movie on Netflix.” “I really should make time to read the Bible — but these TikTok videos are so funny.”

Can anybody relate to those comments?

In the late 19th century, Francis Thompson published an epic poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” It’s a tale of God’s relentless pursuit of a man’s soul, just as a hound relentlessly pursues its prey.

We know God is loving and merciful, but we often assume this means God is passive. He just sits back and waits for us to come to Him. But God’s love is a passionate love. He wants us to be in a loving relationship with Him, which is the sole reason He created us in the first place. 

We may often act like Adam in the Sistine Chapel painting: lounging, indifferent, barely making an effort to acknowledge God, kind of hoping He doesn’t get too close and disturb our comfort zone. But God is not passive. He reaches out for us, straining, lunging, almost desperate to touch our hearts and souls. Why? Because of His infinite love for us.

We really have to work hard to ignore the Lord. His beautiful creation is overwhelming, but we often shrug our shoulders and say, “Meh, cosmic accident.” The love a parent has for a child is breath-taking — and a mere shadow of the love God has for us — but we say, “Um, evolution, or whatever,” and don’t give it any further thought. 

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