We seem to be quite unsure about what it means to be human in the 21st century. One of the themes I return to every month is the figure of Adam, including how he has been portrayed in art – every month it seems to throw helpful light on the question of what it means to be human.
21st century culture often values human autonomy, but actually I find that this is not an accurate description of being human. I did not create myself: I was born to my parents, as they were to theirs, and so the chain goes back into history.
Michelangelo’s interpretation of being created tells me this is something incredibly energetic and vital, and that there is a spiritual aspect to being created:
The creative power behind human being is not just a union of male and female, but also a God of love and energy, without whom I would not have life – as Adam, in this painting, just lounges lifelessly, awaiting the life-giving touch of God.
To be human is to be a complex of body, mind, emotion and spirit.
Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” is not exactly Adam, but it certain does capture something of the mystical beauty and complexity of humanity:
But we are also like Van Eyck’s “Adam” below, though – not perfectly symmetrical, not beautiful in every way. Rather vulnerable, in fact, despite outward shows od strength and power:
In Van Eyck’s wider vision below, Adam and Eve (top left and top right) are just part of a much bigger spiritual picture, with God top centre, and the mystical “Lamb of God” and the fountain of life in the middle at the bottom. Humanity assembles from the four corners of the earth to worship and acknowledge their createdness, their dependence on each other and in God, and their physical, emotional and spiritual complexity.
Some people laugh at the stories of Adam and Eve today.
But I find that they shine a light on the human condition – especially my human condition!
And so Adam remains one of my inspirers…