Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Art and Symbolism: "The Creation of Adam" part 1

Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1509-1512) with iconic religious images highlighting events such as Creation, The Fall from Paradise, Noah's Flood, and so on. Many believe that within these images, the artist also concealed symbolic meanings and messages that go far beyond their face value. One panel, perhaps one of the most recognizable of all times is the so-called "Creation of Adam." The scene depicted in the fresco shows God reaching out toward Adam, with the index fingers of their outstretched hands almost touching. After creating Adam out of clay, God then breathes life into His creation.

However, a closer inspection reveals some interesting details that show a deeper, symbolic meaning beyond the first impression:

Look at the image in full and note their body language. On the right, God appears to be reaching out with all his might (which is a lot because after all, he is the almighty), as if struggling against a force or a stiff wind. Notice how his legs, and those of the people surrounding him, are going in the opposite direction. Clearly, this is someone with a strong desire to reach out and make a connection with His creation.

Now look at Adam on the left. Is this a person with a similar desire? Is he reaching out with all his might? It doesn't appear to be the case. Actually, Adam is reclining with most of his body weight centered away from God. He is resting on his opposite elbow (his right) and he even needs his knee to support his left arm. Adam is reaching out a little, though. We can see his head leaning toward God and his left hand is pointing there as well, but it doesn't look like he's really putting much effort into it. The desire seems to be there, but it's not backed up by strength, yet.

Now look at a close up of the hands. God, on the right, cannot reach out any more, as his index finger is fully extended. Adam's hand is a little limp and his index finger could be extended more. Actually, from this image, all Adam has to do (literally and figuratively) is to lift a finger, and he will make the connection with his creator.

Now go back to the full picture again. God is reaching out with all his might, and Adam just has to lift a finger. Why is this and what does it mean? Perhaps it suggests that God wants us to come to Him. Being God, of course he should be able to reach out and embrace his creation, but that's not the point. He wants Adam to want Him - at least want Him enough to lift a finger! It's like the old saying, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." And, maybe God's so-called chosen people are not the people God chose, but rather, the people who choose God, consciously and out of desire for that union with the Divine Presence.

OK, that's interesting, but you may ask (and I'm glad you did), "So what, what does this mean to me in my life right now?" Well, in a spiritual context, we are reminded by many of the world's religions that it is up to us to make the conscious choice toward God. Or, in a more everyday sense, if we want something, we have to be willing to move toward it and not expect it to fall in our lap. And because in the image, God is right there, fully available and eager to connect, maybe our dreams and goals are also right there waiting for us to reach out toward them.

Even in everyday experience, the lesson holds true. If there's a girl you want to meet, don't just look at her and expect her to read your mind and come to you. Maybe she's old fashioned or just wants some confirmation from you that tells her you are willing to make the effort, take the risk of rejection and introduce yourself. Otherwise, if you aren't willing to do that, how could she trust you to take the initiative in any other situation?

So is Adam just lazy? Maybe so, or maybe he's afraid, but he is curious and if he does lift that finger he will make the connection. In prayer and meditation, we are to make conscious contact with the Divine. This is also one of the 12 Steps of recovery - to improve our conscious contact with God.

Use this beautiful painting as a tool. Remember the image and remind yourself to lift that finger, to reach out to God, your dream or the girl at the end of the bar. Reach out to your troubled teen or a person in pain. Show them your desire to connect. Chances are, the person or Deity on the other side wants the connection just as much as you - perhaps even more - but that it is on YOU to make the connection. So stop looking for a key to unlock the door to your higher self. The door is unlocked; it's wide open, in fact. There is a hand of the other side of the threshold wanting so much to pull you in, but it's not going to grab you against your will. This simple act of will - the will to connect - can bring you the spiritual, human and physical treasures of your heart. Do it now. Lift that finger.



  1. This really touched my heart, and made me want to reach even further in life and spiritually. Thank you for reminding me that the door is wide open.

  2. I had a dream with this fresco in it and you really put it in a better perspective.

  3. Is it possible for life to be an unintended consequence of our Universe?

    I'm working on a theory for some time in trying to combine science with religion, looking for an answer to the question "What is the purpose of life in Creation?" Finally thanks to science and space exploration in the universe, we got all to agree on the fact that we are not the only planet that is hosting life. Einstein studied very much the universe, we know it all and came to the conclusion that it is too big and too complex, not be governed by something like a higher energy "From nothing you can not do something he was saying"......

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  6. Even the both legs are 90% the same _ God and Adam legs towards right side.